12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.According to cablegrams published in Australian newspapers, a royal commission in Great Britain, known as the Macmillan Commission, has just presented a report upon central banking and monetary systems, and I should like to know if the Government will arrange through the High Commissioner to have a number of copies of the report of the commission forwarded as early as possible so that honorable senators may be able to make use of the findings of the commission in discussing legislation relating to central banking?
– I believe that the Government has already taken steps to secure copies of the document which, from what one can gather from the cablegrams, must be of a most interesting nature.
– I hope that the copies obtained will be more than the usual number, which I understand is two.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate the following question, without notice: -
Has he noticed in to-day’s issue of the Canberra Times the statement that returned soldiers who arc in receipt of a war pension and are at present unemployed in Canberra, are to be deprived of food relief to the extent of the amount of pension drawn? Is it a fact that the Canberra police have received- instructions to put this into effect; if so, will the Government take action to see that these men’s pensions are safeguarded?
– I understand that a statement is being made on the subject in another place this afternoon, but I ask the honorable senator to give notice of his question.
– In that connexion, I should like the Minister to explain why important ministerial statements are not also made in the Senate. Quite recently a statement was made in another place upon the decisions arrived at by a special committee appointed to deal with the proposed reductions of war pensions, and in. another case a report of the proceedings at the last Imperial Conference was made in another place, but in neither instance was a statement made in this chamber.
– I was under the impression that every ministerial statement made in another place had also been made in this chamber.
– by leave - The following statement was made in another place this afternoon by the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) concerning rations allowed to soldier pensioners, in regard to which questions were asked in the Senate earlier this afternoon : -
I have seen the vindictive and political attack upon myself, characteristic of the Canberra Times. In view of the gross misrepresentation of the position, and in anticipation of questions, I have prepared the following statement: -
Upon assuming office the Government made No. 4 camp available to the travelling unemployed; there water, sewerage, wood, and light are provided. It is probably the best unemployed camp in Australia, and 1 invite honorable members to inspect it at any time. Incoming and outgoing rations on a liberal scale are given. Recently the Government of New South Wales refused to issue rations to any travellers whowere temporarily camped within the Federal Capital Territory, and I was confronted by about 130 men who were in dire need. They were suffering, and I placed them upon the Canberra ration list. The camp was made available only to those who were in need, and. was never meant to’ be used by those who had an income. I was advised, however, that amongst the inmates were men who were not in want, and were in receipt of an income up to £2 a week; these men were occupying space at the camp, and were receiving relief. I then gave instructions that the New South Wales regulations restricting the relief to be given to those in receipt of income and applying for rations should be generally applied, with the qualification, however, that I would personally investigate any such cases. In New South Wales, the military pensionsof applicants for relief and of members of the same family as the applicant are taken into consideration before rations are granted. This practice is not strictly observed in the Federal Territory, but each case is separately considered. Owing to the fact that accommodation is available in the camp for only130 men and’ that the camp is reserved for those in dire need, this restriction was applied. Three cases have already been referred to me, and are now being investigated. An interim report shows that one man is in receipt, of a war pension of 8s. fid. a week, and has not been refused ration relief. The other two cases are being reviewed. I assure honorable members that the Government is not only caring for the unemployed residents of Canberra, but is doing more than its fair share to relieve the State of New South Wales of its responsibility for travelling unemployed. Up to 1,300 rations monthly have been issued to travelling unemployed by the Commonwealth Government. Large quantities of clothing during the last eighteen months have also been distributed, and as further material, including military stores, becomes available, this practice will be continued. From the foregoing facts, it will be seen that the newspaper report is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.
– Will the Government take steps to procure for the information of honorable senators a copy of the report of a commission on communism which has been sitting in the United States of America for some months, and has recently concluded its labours ?
– The Government cannot be expected to take steps to secure reports upon matters which are of individual and not international interest, especially when they do not concern Australia.
– Referring to previous questions I have asked, can the Leader of the Government in the Senate state what action the Government contemplates with regard to interest charged to home purchasers in Canberra and purchasers of war service homes, and can he yet state what action the Government contemplates, so far as its economy proposals are concerned, in reference to the Commonwealth superannuation scheme?
– I regret that I have not yet obtained the information asked for by the honorable senator, but T. understand that an answer is being prepared.
– Is it the intention of the Government to stop any further evictions of returned soldiers from war service homes?
– The Government has not, to. my knowledge, been party to the eviction of any individual.
– In view of the anticipated benefits to Australia from the trade treaty recently arranged with Canada, is it the intention of the Government to try to arrange with other dominions and also with foreign countries further trade treaties -that may assist the export of our products?
– Following upon the action recently taken to arrange with Canada a trade treaty, which I understand is most advantageous to both dominions, the Government has been actively engaged in an endeavour tn establish trade relations, not only with other dominions, but also with other countries. Commonwealth agents are now engaged in various parts of the world in an endeavour to arrange such treaties, and the Government is hopeful of securing from them as good results as have been obtained from the negotiations with Canada. papers:
The following, papers were presented ; -
Sales Tax Assessment Acts - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 87.
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 84.
Number and Salaries Paid
– a reply will be furnished as soon as possible to a question asked by Senator Duncan concerting the number of Commonwealth public servants and the total -salaries paid during certain years.
Is it a fact, as reported in yesterday’s issue of the Canberra, Times, that lottery prizes in the New South Wales Government lottery will not be subject to federal taxation?
– Lottery prizes are not subject to income tax under any provision of the Commonwealth Income.
Tax Assessment Act. The provision under which lottery prizes were formerly subject to income tax was repealed in 1923.
Has he noticed in yesterday’s issue of the Canberra Times newspaper a reported cable reading as follows : - “ London, Monday. The financial writer of the Daily Herald says, Australia has every reason to congratulate herself on the remarkable performance of reducing the London indebtedness by £21,000,000. The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) has every reason to take pride in the fact’ “?
Is it a fact that the London indebtedness of the Commonwealth has been reduced by £21,000,000?
– The answers are as follow: -
Amendment of Financial Agreement
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers are as follow: -
Debate resumed from 14th of July (vide page 3799), on motion by Senator Barnes -
That the bill be now read a second time.
; - I suppose that practically every one in Australia is cognizant of the distressing times through which the Commonwealth is passing, and of the difficult problems with which the Government has to deal. In these circumstances they have some sympathy with the Government in its efforts to restore financial stability. Probably that is why honorable senators supporting this measure have made apologies for it, and for supporting the reductions in wages and invalid and old-age and war pensions for which it provides. Do such apologiessuggest that the proposals embodied in this measure are more or less morally wrong, and that by the introduction of this measure the Government is endeavouring to legalize a moral wrong? In my opinion these reductions are both morally and economically wrong, and will not have the effect claimed by those supporting them. My memory carries me back to the time when those now occupying the Opposition benches were endeavouring to make a severe reduction in certain allowances to members of the Public Service. On that occasion ex-Senator Needham, who was then the Leader of the Labour, party in the Senate, together with all his followers, virtually raised the roof of this building in protesting against the action which the Government then proposed. The members of the Labour party at that time were strongly opposed to the reductions then proposed. They contended that Parliament was not. the authority to reduce wages or allowances and that such reductions should be made by the Arbitration Court or some other such tribunal.
– There is no proper place in which to reduce wages.
– The tribunal which has the power to increase wages should be the only authority to consider reductions. If there is one thing that the Commonwealth public servants can thank the Scullin Government for it is that it delayed twelve months or more in making any reduction in their salaries. It is suggested that the proposed reduction in salaries, wages and pensions will increase our revenue and provide additional employment.^ That was the cry before the 10 per cent, cut was made by the Arbitration Court in the wages of the workers throughout Australia. It was claimed fairly widely that that reduction would be the means of providing employment for an enormous number of people. Practically daily the argument was advanced in the press that if Arbitration Court awards were cancelled, and men were allowed to work’ for whatever wages they could procure, the volume of employment would be considerably increased in every direction, and that Australia would quickly be on the road to a complete recovery. But the reduction of wages worked out in the opposite direction. Immediately, the unemployed market became more flooded than it had been. The loss to the wageearners of Australia as a result amounted to £44,000,000. Consequently, the purchasing power of the people was contracted to that extent, and trade has suffered commensurately by the withdrawal of that money from circulation.
It has been proved that a lowering of the purchasing power 6f ‘1?he people results in unemployment being increased. Wherein, then, lies the virtue of this bill? How will a reduction of wages and pensions lift Australia out of the mire of degradation in which she is floundering, seeing that, at a conservative estimate, there are 70,000 more people on the unemployed market than there were prior to the previous reduction of 10 per cent.? Our warehouses are overflowing with manufactured goods, which cannot be disposed of on account of the lessened purchasing power of the people.
– Where will the money come from if this reduction be not made ?
– Had the Government acted on the suggestion which I and and thirteen other members of the Labour party made, that it should appeal to the country rather than agree to this plan, it might have been enabled to give effect to Labour’s programme.
– Is the honorable senator referring to the fiduciary note issue ?
– I am. That was Labour’s policy, and we should have per sisted with it irrespective of what happened, because we considered that it was the right action to take.
– The honorable senator knew very well that the Government would not go to the country; that is why he voted in the way he did.
– I resent that interjection, which is most unfair to me. No one knew how the vote would go when it was being taken. I took a risk - which is more than the honorable senator is prepared to do.
– The honorable senator had a fairly shrewd idea.
– The honorable senator must not attribute motives to any other honorable senator.
– Every conservative newspaper in Australia to-day is praising the Melbourne plan, and pointing out what it will do for the people generally; but, on the other hand, every Labour newspaper that I have read is opposing the plan, especially that portion of it which is represented by the bill that we now have before us. When conservative newspapers support a proposal that is put forward by the Labour party, there must be something wrong with it. It is plainly evident that if the introduction of this plan has achieved no other purpose, it has at least brought about a coalition, or a very definite semi-coalition, of parties. One Opposition senator said to me today, “You are in the same party as we are “. Whether that is a good thing for Australia, only the future will disclose. In my humble opinion, the Labour movement in supporting such a scheme as this is marching to its Calvary. But one can only hope for the best, and if the plan is as successful as those who support it claim that it will be, I shall be the first to acknowledge my error.
The most difficult proposal to accept is that which relates to old-age andinvalid pensions. I direct the attention of Senator Thompson to the fact that weeks before the plan was settled, I addressed a meeting in Port Adelaide on a Sunday evening, in the course of which I stated that I could not, in any circumstances, support a measure that would make a cut in old-age or invalid pensions.
– Does the honorable senator propose to continue to act as whip for a government that does these things ?
– On that occasion, I stated plainly where I stood, and I intend to follow that course, wherever it may lead me.
Some time ago, when it was suggested that old-age pensions might be cut, the members of all parties, with the exception of the honorable member for Gippsland in another place (Mr. Paterson), denounced the very idea. To-day, however, there are few objectors to the proposed cut. It is claimed in some quarters that because of the reduced cost of living, old-age pensioners will be as well off to-day with a pension of 17s. 6d. a week, as they were in 1929 with a pension of £1 a week, . and that, therefore, they ought to be prepared to accept the reduction.
– It is equivalent to the reduction that has taken place in the cost of living.
– The increase in the old-age pension by the Bruce-Page Government gave unbounded pleasure to everybody. But if a Nationalist government were in power to-day it would undoubtedly take action to reduce the payments.
– It would have made a greater reduction.
– Because of the declared policy of the Labour party to increase the invalid and old-age pensions it would have been much better if the parliamentary party had refused absolutely to approve of the Government’s proposal and risked all on an appeal to the country. Unfortunately, the majority of the party was disinclined to face the. issue in that way. Instead, it acquiesced in the Government’s proposal, with the result that the plan for the financial and economic rehabilitation of the Commonwealth now includes a reduction of invalid and old-age pensions.
– Anything to remain in office.
– I prefer not to say anything about that just now. I invite honorable senators to consider what this reduction means to those of our worthy pioneers who depend upon the pension for sustenance in their declining years.
For many weeks they were wondering if the Government really intended to make this cut in their pensions ; and every time that I returned to Adelaide I wat interviewed by many of them about the matter.
– And the honorable senator assured them that the Government would not reduce their pensions.
– I did. In an address at a public meeting at Port Adelaide before this plan had’ been adopted I told the people that whatever scheme was agreed to at the Premiers Conference, the Labour movement, at all events, would never endorse a proposal to reduce the invalid and old-age pei sions. But it has accepted the scheme, and, as a consequence, these old people are keenly disappointed. This retrograde step is the more to be regretted because Labour was responsible for that measure being placed upon our statutebook.
– It was not passed by a Labour Government.
– I knew that thai statement would raise a storm of protest. I repeat that the Labour movement was responsible for this legislation. It is true that it was passed by the Deakin Government, but that ministry was kept in power by the Labour party, which demanded, as the price of its support, the introduction of a bill to provide for the payment of invalid and oldage pensions.
– That explanation it a bit thin.
– The Labour movement has good reason to be proud of that plank in its platform. I therefore regret that I and several others are now forced to oppose many features of the plan that has been brought forward by the Government. I can assure honorable senators that it gives me no pleasure to vote against a measure introduced by a Labour Ministry.
– The honorable senator has joined the Langites.
– The honorable senator ought to know me better.
I turn now to the proposed reduction of the maternity grant, another proposal which has caused me a considerable amount “of worry. That grant, as I have good reason to know, has been of inestimable value to the wage-earner. To many workers it is a Heaven-sent blessing, because it insures at least the attendance of a doctor and a nurse.
– It should have been revised years ago.
– I agree with the honorable senator, and I have to admit that when the previous Government brought down amending legislation the Senate Opposition, under the leadership of Senator Needham, offered the most strenuous opposition, contending that it was the thin end of the wedge, and would mean the ultimate abolition of the grant. I think, speaking from memory, that the proposal then was to allow the individual amount of the grant to stand, but to limit payment to the wives of persons whose income did not exceed £600 a year. I honestly believe, in the light of all that has happened since then, that if this Government had sought to limit the payment to the wives of persons whose income did not exceed £4-00 a year, there would have been no complaint from, any quarter. But the Government has reduced the amount of income to £265 a year, and, in addition, proposes to reduce the grant by 20 per cent. This is most unfair. The full amount should still be payable, and the exemption limit raised somewhat.
– Is the grant claimed by all who are entitled to it?
– It is claimed by practically everybody, and by some who ought to be ashamed to take it.
– Last year there were more maternity claims than the number of children born.
– I cannot accept that statement.
– Order ! I advise the honorable senator to take no notice of interjections.
– The Labour movement was also responsible for the passing of that legislation, and we have always been proud of it. Some years ago, when the Commonwealth Government was subsidizing the movement to encourage immigration, and when immigrants were costing us about £8 a head, we contended that the Australian baby was the best immigrant, and certainly was worth the. amount of the maternity grant. What ever’ our opinion as to the wisdom of spending money to assist migration, no one will deny that every Australian-born child is worth at least £5 to this country. Reductions of invalid and’ old-age pensions and the maternity bonus, if made at all, should be made, not by Labour, but by Labour’s opponents, for such a policy is more in keeping with their views.
I do not know what reductions of soldiers’ pensions were originally intended by the Premiers ; but, fortunately for the soldiers, they had a strong organization behind them, and were’ a’ble to put up a good fight for themselves. Realizing that the votes of the returned soldiers mean a lot to any political party, the Government allowed itself to be bluffed.
– The returned soldiers have been treated worse than the old-age pensioners.
– I do not think so.
– They have public opinion behind them.
– And justice, also.
– No one disputes that. I am merely pointing out that, because of the strength of the organizations behind them, the returned soldiers have been able to obtain for themselves treatment which the old-age pensioners, who are riot organized, have been unable to get. The returned soldiers, being organized, forced the Government to climb down.
– Their pensions will be reduced by £1,250,000 per annum.
– I remind Senator Guthrie that he will have an opportunity to speak on this subject if he so desires.
– If a saving of £1,250,000 is possible now, something must have been wrong before.
– The honorable senator should not forget that the soldiers put up a good fight for Australia at a critical time.
– I am not disputing that. Nor do I agree with the reduction in soldiers’ pensions originally proposed. I congratulate the soldiers on the fight that they have put up. They have come out the winners; but the old-age pensioners cannot expect to do so.
– It was a pyrrhic victory.
– It is a victory, nevertheless.
– The honorable senator mentioned the voting power of the returned soldiers. I remind him that there are more old-age pensioners than soldier pensioners.
– These cuts will inflict more hardship on the old-age pensioners than on the soldier pensioners. First there is to be a reduction in the amount of the old-age pension itself ; then the amount which pensioners are allowed to earn is to be reduced; and, thirdly, their property qualification was to have been altered. An old-age pensioner who owned a house worth more than £500 was to have his pension reduced in proportion to the amount by which the value of the house exceeded £500. A person owning a house worth £900 would have been ineligible for a pension. Fortunately, that proposal was defeated in another place. Had the old-age pensioners been organized as the soldiers are organized, it is probable that some of these injustices would not have been inflicted on them. The proposal to base pensions on the value of the property held by an applicant was an encouragement to thriftless habits. for under it a man who spent all that he got on drink would have been entitled to a pension, whereas another man who had saved his money to purchase a comfortable little home for himself would have been ineligible for the pension. I am glad that so unjust a proposal was defeated in another place. It is regrettable that the pension should be reduced, for even £1 a week is little enough. Surely Australia is not in such a plight that it cannot afford to pay old-age pensioners £1 a week? I know” that the pension has been a godsend to many old people. Before the legislation authorizing the payment of the pension was enacted, I visited the old Destitute Asylum in Adelaide, and although it was a bright sunny day, the building was such a miserable, prison-like place that even the birds in the trees refused to sing. From there I went to the Adelaide Gaol, where I found a brighter building and a more cheerful atmosphere than in the other place.
– “Were the gaol birds singing?
– This is no joking matter. I was referring to stern, cruel, realities. The granting of the old-age pension enabled many old folk to leave the Destitute Asylum, and to get into little homes of their own.
The invalid and old-age pensions should have been the last thing to be reduced. It stands to the’ disgrace of the economists, bankers, and others who advised the Premiers at the recent Melbourne conference that they advocated its reduction. They, as well as the premiers who accepted their proposals, should be everlastingly ashamed of themselves. In order to save Australia, they felt it necessary to call upon oldage pensioners - many of whom had spent the best part of their lives in assisting to build up Australia - to suffer a reduction of their pensions ! Even with the saving of £1,000,000 which their proposal will mean, the ledger will not be balanced : we shall still be £11,000,000 to the bad. The idea of the premiers is to restore confidence in order that Australia might borrow more money on the other side of the world. Our borrowing policy has been the cause of our present trouble. Instead of living on our. own production, we have lived on borrowed money, and by so doing we have brought disaster upon ourselves. Once confidence has been restored by cutting expenditure in every direction, an attempt will be made to make up the leeway by borrowing £11,000,000 overseas. Already our warehouses are overstocked with manufactured goods awaiting purchasers, yet it is proposed to borrow more millions overseas and import still more manufactured goods, and pile them into our already overstocked warehouses. I cannot see any sense in doing so. We are told that we have to balance the Commonwealth budget by reducing wages and pensions.
– Would the honorable senator say that old-age pensioners in Australia are treated worse than old people in other countries?
– That is not the point. The other day it was contended that our returned soldiers are treated better than those of any other part of the world, but that is no reason why our treatment of soldiers and old-age pen- sioners should not always be better than that accorded to these people elsewhere. As a democratic nation, we are supposed to lead the world. We cannot do so if we reduce old-age and other pensions.
– Even when we are bankrupt?
– We are nothing of the kind. Who are likely to lose the most through the nation’s bankruptcy?
– The bondholders.
– Wo, the banks. They will, therefore, see that there is no default in Australia.
– Who are the banks, but the people of Australia?
– I agree with the honorable senator to the extent that the Commonwealth Bank, being the people’s bank, may be said to be representative of the people of Australia, but private banking institutions which belong to private individuals, are not representative of the people of Australia. They are representative of only a small portion of the people of the Commonwealth.
It is proposed to balance the budget by a further cut in salaries, pensions, and expenditure generally. As we have already seen, a reduction of wages by £44,000,000 has brought in its train increased unemployment, and I very much fear that a further reduction of expenditure will lead to a still greater increase of unemployed. In fact, this was anticipated by the experts who prepared the plan; because they have made arrangements for an additional £3,000,000 to feed unemployed or starving people. A reduction of expenditure in South Australia led to a considerable increase of the number of unemployed in that State. Greater unemployment leads to a reduction of the spending power of the community, and that in turn means a. reduced revenue.
I shall vote against this bill. I have criticized it, and predicted what I think will happen, but if I am proved to be wrong, I am man enough to admit it. I regret very much having to oppose a bill introduced by a Labour government. I hope that it will bring about the result anticipated by its sponsors.
– What alternative does the honorable senator suggest?
– When the matter was under consideration by our party, I voted in favour of enforcing Labour’s policy or of making an appeal to the country. I think either course is preferable to the acceptance of this plan, which, I am confident, can bring about no good result.
– I have already expressed my attitude towards what . is known as the plan, and as this bill is one of the legs of that comprehensive indivisible structure, to be consistent, I must oppose it. I have already stated my opposition to the agreement bill, which has not yet reached this chamber, and to the conversion bill, which passed through this chamber yesterday. The bill now before us is the most drastic of all the measures brought forward to give effect to the plan. It aims primarily at the dislocation of the accepted policy of arbitration. It gives to Ministers and to others, but principally to Ministers, authority to deal with the salaries and conditions of labour of employees of the Commonwealth regardless of existing awards or agreements. In short, it means the parliamentary fixation of wages, salaries and conditions. At the present time this may be a good thing, but the time may come when it is not a good thing for the Parliament of this country to fix wages and conditions of labour. The bill provides for the appointment of a committee, consisting of a representative of the Public Service Board, the Public Service Arbitrator, and a government appointee. The suggestion that the employees likely to be affected should have the right of representation on that committee has not been accepted. The people vitally concerned will, therefore, have no representation, yet the committee may make recommendations to the Minister in regard to the salaries and conditions of labour of employees who are already under federal arbitration awards, or awards of State courts or industrial tribunals, and in regard to employees, such as female office cleaners, who are not under any award. Salaries of persons under contract will be altered. A man working for the Commonwealth Government under an agreement may have the terms of that agreement arbitrarily changed or repudiated by a Minister on the recommendation of this committee. It is a case of riding rough-shod over the principles of democratic control. If there is any truth in the statement that politics are only private morals translated into: public service, there is some justification for the allegation that private morals in this community have seriously deteriorated during the last decade. In fact, there are men in prison to-day who have committed less serious offences than are proposed to be legalized by this extraordinary measure. It permitsthe breaking of conditions of contract entered into with private citizens for the carrying out of certain work. There is a distinct departure from what have previouslybeen regarded as the fundamental principles of honesty and public service.
Senator Hoare has already alluded to the proposal to reduce the inadequate pittance provided by the Commonwealth forthe pioneers of this country. I endorse his statements. Although it has, no doubt, been proposed with the best of intentions, it seems to me to lack any element of sta tesman ship to say that the ship of State may be righted by taking 6d. a week from the pocket money of an inmate of an institution, reducing his allowance from 5s. 6d. to 5s. a week. Such pettifogging schemes will not bring about what the preposterous preamble to this bill describes as “ industrial and general prosperity.”
I shall not delay the Senate very long. Part VI of the bill refers to war pensions - a meed of recognition, all too inadequate, which this nation has bestowed on soldiers, sailors and nurses injured during the war. If any contract should be solemnly honoured, surely the promise to pay the soldiers, sailors and nurses the pensions to which they are entitled should be honoured. The harm and discredit which will accrue from a breaking of this contract will more than outweigh any good that may be achieved by saving a few shillings here and there from former soldiers, sailors and nurses. Having had an intimate acquaintance with a large number of the men who served overseas, and especially those wounded during the first two years of the war; having assisted in the formation of the London branch of the Aus tralian Natives Association, which, through the Anzac Buffet, helped these men while away from home, in addition to providing more than 1,000,000 free meals, and having also basked in the reflected glory of their deeds, I hesitate to even refer to this proposal to reduce war pensions. How we were thrilled by the memorable exploits of the Anzacs, who were described by a British officer as “ The bravest things God ever made “. Will Ogilvie, the Australian poet, in taking up that theme, wrote -
The skies that arched his land were blue,
His bush-born winds were warm and sweet,
And yet from earliest hours he knew
The tides ofvictory and defeat;
From fierce floods, thundering at his birth,
From red droughts ravening while he played,
He learned to fear no foe on earth - “ The bravest thing. God ever made “.
The bugles of the Motherland
Rang ceaselessly across the sea,
To call him and his lean brown band,
To shape Imperial destiny.
He went, by youth’s grave purpose willed,
The goal unknown, the cost unweighed,
The promise of his blood fulfilled - “ The bravest thing God ever made “.
We know - it is our deathless pride -
The splendour of his. first, fierce blow,
How, reckless, glorious, undenied,
He stormed those steel-lined cliffs, we know!
Andnone who saw him scale the height,
Behind his reeking bayonet blade,
Would rob him of his title right - “ The bravest thing God ever made “.
Bravest, where half a world of men
Are brave beyond all earth’s reward,
So stoutly none shall charge again
Till the last breaking of the sword;
Wounded, or hale, won home from war,
Or yonder by the Lone Pine laid -
Give him his due for evermore - “ The bravest thing God ever made “.
At this period, which is only sixteen years later, I do not propose to take any part in besmirching that fair page of this young nation’s history by supporting proposals, reeking as they are with repudiation, and particularly those which affect our returned soldiers. I shall oppose the bill as I have opposed other proposals, of this nature.
.- It is not my intention to discuss at length the proposals embodied in this measure at this juncture, as we shall have an opportunity when it is in committee to consider many of the important items which it contains. I should like, however, briefly to reply to the cutting speech of Senator Hoare, who has ignored the fact that a measure of this kind, providing as it does for a reduction in our national expenditure, is inevitable; and that unless drastic steps are taken by the Commonwealth in an endeavour to meet its commitments and balance its budgets, it is possible that the finances of this country may get into such a condition that no money will be available for the payment of salaries, wages or pensions.
– We cannot balance budgets by sacking men.
– I am not dealing with a proposal which involves the sacking of men. There is nothing in the bill concerning such a proposal. This measure deals, among other things, with a reduction of the rates at present paid under our pension scheme.
– Cutting wages means unemployment.
– In that connexion I refer the honorable senator to what lias occurred in Queensland where fully 50 per cent, of the unemployed have been absorbed as a result of the Government’s policy in reducing expenditure and the suspension of rural workers awards. When I was in Brisbane in June of last year, it presented a spectacle such as one would not expect to see in the capital city of such a productive State. Hundreds, and possibly thousands of young, vigorous men were eagerly awaiting sustenance at a depot near the Botanic Gardens. When visiting Brisbane again in August of the same year, I took a friend to the depot to witness this pitiable sight, and to impress upon him the state which many of the citizens of the capital city of Queensland had reached. But, to my surprise, I found only a few awaiting sustenance, and on making inquiries, I ascertained that the Government of the day had done the only thing that was possible in the circumstances. It had suspended certain awards, and in consequence, over 50 per cent, of the men who i&i previously been supplied with sustenance had been found employment, and were able to walk erect through the streets, feeling that they were earning money with which to provide themselves with the necessities of life.
– And this had been done by cutting down wages !
– No. By suspending’ awards and thus providing more employment for the people. If there is not sufficient money to pay award rates, surely it is reasonable to suggest that employment should be made available at lower rates. Immediately wages are reduced the cost of living automatically decreases.
I deplore as much as any one the necessity for the introduction of this measure, which provides for a reduction in the allowances of members of Parliament, the salaries of public servants, and in invalid, old-age and war pensions. I remind Senator Hoare that the allowances of members of Parliament, which were reduced last year, are now to be further reduced, making the reduction equivalent to that to be borne by members of the Public Service generally. I have no objection to the Government’sproposal in this respect; I believe that members of Parliament are prepared to make their sacrifice, in common with other members of the community.
In regard to the proposed reduction in the cost of the Public Service, we have to remember that the Commonwealth public servants occupy an absolutely sheltered position, and in that respect differ from other members of the community. Wet or dry, ill or well, whether business is thriving or otherwise, their rates of pay remain unaltered. There is no likelihood of them losing their employment. Moreover, they receive certain concessions and additions to their salary such as no other section of the community can ever expect. In these circumstances, it is reasonable that this huge body of public servants should make a sacrifice equivalent to that which is being made by those in private employment.
No one deplores the necessity for reducing invalid, old-age and war pensions more than I do; but we have to remember that we are driven to adopt this policy by dire necessity.
– Not in regard to the cutting of old-age and invalid pensions.
– We know what our financial position is. If these reductions are not made, the Government will be unable to pay any pensions at all, which would be infinitely worse than the proposal now before the Senate. I have le greatest respect and admiration for the pioneers of this country who, during periods of health and strength, have rendered valuable service to the community, and, in many cases, have reared large families. We should do all we can for these people in their declining years, but we cannot possibly do more than the funds available will allow. It must not be forgotten that the proposed reduction in invalid and old-age pensions is not more than equivalent to the reduced cost of living as disclosed by the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures.
– They have already had their cut.
– That is not so. About’ five years ago the rate was increased to 20s. per week, and to-day pensioners enjoy privileges which previously were not available to them.
Senator Hoare also made a vigorous attack upon the Government in respect to its proposal to alter the system under which the “maternity allowance is paid. Surely the honorable senator cannot justify a continuance of a scheme reeking with inequalities. Is there any reason why the wife of John Smith, whose income may be £2,000 a year, should receive the maternity allowance of £5 when a child is born? When I suggested some years ago that the whole position should be reviewed so that those who did not need the allowance should not receive it, the members of the Labour party said that they did not believe in any scheme of differentiation. The figures published in the Commonwealth Year-Book disclose that everyone, irrespective of position, applied for the maternity allowance. Even a person in receipt of £20,000 a year was eligible to apply for the allowance, and if the money was not required to pay for medical or other attention it was used to purchase a goblet or a bracelet for the infant. As the money from which the allowance is paid is contributed by the poorest taxpayers among others, its payment in every case, regardless of the income of the claimant, cannot be regarded as other than a scandal. In 1921, I endeavoured to limit the payment of the maternity allowance to persons in receipt of moderate incomes, but what support did I receive from the members of the Labour party? They unitedly opposed the scheme, because they contended it was contrary to democratic principles to differentiate as between different classes of the community. They were agreeable to persons in poor circumstances contributing towards the payment of an allowance of £5 to those who did not need it.
– Those who do not need it should not claim it.
– On page 691 of the Commonwealth Year-Booh for 1930, the total births for 1928-29 is shown as 129,480. On page 269 of the same publication the maternity claims during the same period are given as 132,304. Of that number 901 claims were rejected, leaving the number actually paid as 131,403, which is more than the actual number of births registered. If these figures are approximately correct, it is apparent that every eligible person submitted a claim. Regarding the proposal to reduce the pensions of returned soldiers, I am very glad that the Government has seen fit to accept the findings and recommendations of the soldiers’ committee that was appointed some time ago ; ‘ and it is specially pleasing to know that the basic rate on which pensions are granted is not to be interfered with. Practically, that means that the pensions which are paid to those soldiers who suffer from any war disability are not to be touched, the only pensions affected being those that are paid to dependants of pensioners. I am glad also that the pensions of widowed mothers of deceased unmarried members of the forces and of the widows and children of deceased members of the forces, are to be left intact. I realize, as clearly as any one can, that I still owe a debt to the brave men who were prepared to lay down their lives in order that we might live. No sacrifice that we may make can be in any way equivalent to that which they made for us. For that reason, I am especially glad that we have been able to devise means by which- the’ pensions payable in the cases I have named will be unaffected.
I support the second reading of the bill, although I regret the necessity for its introduction. I realize that the proposed economies are rendered urgently necessary by Australia’s financial position.
.- I desire to preface my remarks on this bill by thanking the Senate for its courtesy in having granted me leave of absence for two months on account of illness arising out of my participation :in the late war.
It was not my intention to return to Canberra until I considered that I was completely recovered; but I felt that, as a returned soldier, I was in duty bound to attend the sitting to-day, so as to record a vote against this treacherous proposal of the Government.
There has been a great deal of prating and mouthing concerning what occurred during the dark years of the war. While I was overseas, I learned from the Australian newspapers that arrived at the different fronts on which the Australian troops were engaged, that the impression prevalent in Australia was that nothing was good enough for the Australian soldiers and their dependants. To-day, we Shave in control of the nation’s affairs a government that was returned a little under two years ago with a majority of seventeen, at an election which was fought as the result of the gage of battle having been thrown down by the BrucePage Government to decide whether the arbitration system should be retained or abolished. I was returned as a follower of that Government, and was appointed its Whip in the Senate. A few weeks ;ago I read in a Sydney newspaper the report of a speech by the honorable member for Hunter in another place (Mr. James), in the course of which he stated that, looking back at his experience as a member of the Labour party, he felt he 11]ad been dragged through a - sewer. My association with the Government up to the time when I was expelled from its caucus made me feel that I had lived in a sewer, because I witnessed the breaking of the sacred pledges of a party that had been built- up out of the tears and struggles of the working class of this country.
Senator Hoare has expressed sympathy with the position in which
Australia finds itself to-day. We all are in that sympathetic frame of mind. If sacrifice is necessary, let it be made in connexion with the salaries and other emoluments of members of Parliament, and of. those sections of the community which can afford it. Tens of thousands of men, many of whom were formerly business men, are to-day tramping the highways and byways. Australia is not responsible for ite present economic position; the difficulties with which she is confronted are international in their application. Despite the development of our huge primary resources and the resultant sales of our products in the markets of the world, our national income has declined to the extent of no less than £200,000,000/ According to the latest information available, the total number of unemployed in the United States of America is in the vicinity of 11,000,000, and similar conditions exist in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy, despite the efforts in the lastnamed country of the great Mussolini, who has been hailed as Italy’s economic saviour.
The plan agreed upon at the recent conference of Premiers in Melbourne - which, we are told by the Government^ is alone capable of dragging Australia out of the mire - conforms expressly to that propounded by a recent visitor from Great Britain, Sir Otto Niemeyer, in conjunction with Professor Gregory. Those gentlemen put forward a definite scheme for the rehabilitation of Australia, and it has now been adopted by the Scullin Government. Whatever may be the view of other honorable senators, I regard the present Government as the scabbiest that has ever occupied the treasury bench in the Commonwealth Parliament. The success achieved by it at the Franklin byelection, which was rendered necessary by the death of the late Mr. Mcwilliams, was a tribute to its capacity; but it has since betrayed every fundamental principle of the Labour movement upon which it was elected.
According to a circular that has been issued by the Government, of which doubtless other honorable senators have received a copy, the Bruce-Page Government, during its six years tenure of office, spent out of revenue and loan funds no’ less than £500,000,000. The present Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Pearce) was the Leader of that Government in this chamber, and must accept responsibility for the condition in which Australia now finds itself, yet all that he and those who are associated with him can preach is a political jehad aiming at the reduction of salaries and pensions.
– What does the honorable senator suggest should be done?
– I shall tell the Leader of the Government before I sit down, and I shall repeat it in his home town - Ballarat. The honorable gentleman may laugh; but time is on our side. During the six years that Dr. Earle Page was Treasurer, his administration borrowed £125,000,000. The circular reads-
The federal Labour Government is blamed for all the ills from which the agricultural industry, the pastoral industry, and various other industries in Australia are suffering.
Those of our financial difficulties from which we are suffering more acutely than New Zealand or South Africa have their origin in the mismanagement of the finances in the ten years during which anti-Labour Governments ruled.
This circular was sent to me by the Prime Minister, but I have no doubt that “Kirribilli Ted “-Mr. Theodore- also had a hand in it.
– I thought the Treasurer was a friend of the honorable senator.
– Personally, I believe he is my friend. So also, I hope, is the honorable senator. But in the political sphere, the Treasurer must face up to the issue, and take his criticism. The circular goes on to state -
During the regime of Dr. Page as Treasurer, he built up a record which probably will not be eclipsed by any of his successors. In 1.927, Australian governments floated overseas eleven loans totalling £09,700,000. In 1928, five overseas loans were raised, totalling £30,500,000, and in 1929, up to the time Dr. Page went out of office, three overseas loans, aggregating £25,400,000, were floated by Australian governments. In a period of little under three years Australian govern ments, led by Mr. Bruce and Dr. Page, floated overseas £125,000,000- an amount of £0,000,000 for every two months.
We have it on the authority of the Commonwealth Statistician that the Australian Government has to find £55,000,000 in interest on Government borrowings, and judging by recent events, I have no hesitation in saying that the Government of Australia is not sitting on the treasury bench to-day. The Opposition is really the Government of this country. I feel compelled to say this, because this cowardly, callous, spineless, and politically gutless government, led by Mr. Scullin and Mr. Theodore, is not prepared to face the issue. But the time is coming when it will be forced to do so. If not to-morrow, then in about ten months’ time, it will be compelled to give an account of its stewardship to the people.
Its treatment of our war pensioners shows that it has nothing on Ned Kelly. In the Canberra Times of this morning’s date, there appears a statement that unemployed returned soldiers or sailors in Canberra in receipt of a war pension of 10s. a week or more are now to be denied rations. I have no doubt that Mr. Scullin or Mr. Theodore will to-night sit down to a good dinner; I hope also to do the same. But what about those unfortunate unemployed ex-soldiers, who are homeless and workless, and now are to be denied a government ration?
– The honorable senator will be sorry that he has said this when he reads the reply of the Minister for Home Affairs.
– I take full responsibility for all that I may say, and until I hear Mr. Blakeley’s explanation of this callous treatment of our war pensioners, I shall accept the statements that appear in the Canberra Times. Only a week or two ago one of our leading cartoonists, Mr. George Piney, a New Zealander by birth, and a returned soldier now resident in Sydney, dealing with the Government’s proposals to include war pensions in the general economy scheme, depicted a returned soldier prostrate, with his crutches beside him, and a bayonet, attached to the Union Jack, piercing his heart. The suggestion intended to be conveyed was that the war being over,. Australia had no further need of his services. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) took umbrage at thecartoon. The right honorable gentleman was entitled to do that. In my opinion, it correctly interpreted the attitude of this
Government towards our returned soldiers, because no one will deny that, in this economy plan, they are getting the bayonet well and truly in the ribs.
The general scheme includes a number of financial measures to effect reductions in the salaries and wages of public servants, in invalid and old-age pensions, war pensions, maternity allowances, and also to curtail other social services. Honorable senators are expected to vote for it. I shall not do so. Before I would cast my vote for any reduction of pensions to our returned soldiers, I would cut off my hand, and allow the blood to flow into the gutters of Canberra. Other honorable senators will, no doubt, exercise their prerogative and vote in accordance with their political views. Because of the gross mismanagement of our finances by previous governments, a tremendous dead-weight burden of interest is now resting on the shoulders of Australian taxpayers, and I cannot help thinking that, in this economy scheme, every consideration is being shown to the bondholders. The British bondholder is to be sacrosanct..Whatever happens he must be paid his interest, but the Australian soldier and sailor, the Australian workers, and all our public servants have to bear their share of the burden. Nothing has been said, up to date, about the help which the Mother Country might very well give to Australia during this crisis. The financial interests of Great Britain are willing to give assistance to other countries, but not to Australia. Despite all that we have heard about the yellow peril, Chinese and Japanese freighters have been calling regularly at Australian ports to lift Australiangrown surplus wheat for the overseas markets.
This scabby Scullin Government-
– I repeat that this Government has at last agreed to proposals which, for the most part, were suggested by Sir Otto Niemeyer when he visited Australia last year. The circular states further -
That colossal borrowing exhausted the London market forthis Government, and left a legacy of interest, sinking fund and exchange payments which is to-day the most serious aspect of our financial position.
In the six years that it held office, the imports of merchandise alone totalled £892,000,000, while the exports of merchandise amounted to only £832,000,000, leaving an adverse trade balance against Australia of £60,000,000 despite the fact that this was a period of prosperity and high prices.
I recall a statement made by Sir Otto Niemeyer to the effect that if the Commonwealth Government was prepared to scrap its tariff policy there would be plenty of money available in London to assist Australia over its difficulties. Of course it would suit the British manufacturing interests to see the Australian tariff wall lowered, because then they would ha.ve a much wider market for their output. Naturally enough, they haveno regard for the secondary industries of this country, and experience has shown that unless wegive them adequate protection, they will be unable to survive unfair overseas competition. New protection is one of the principal planks of the Australian Labour Party’s platform, but apparently, this Government is prepared to throw that overboard also, in order to satisfy the demands of British investors and ensure a more plentiful supply of money from outside sources. The circular goes on to state -
Now it is Dr. Page, and his new-found leader, Mr. Lyons, who are blaming this Government for a condition of things which can be directly traced to the extravagance and mismanagement of the last administration.
Mr. Lyons was for some time a responsible Minister in the Scullin Government. Up till a few months ago, I sat in the Labour caucus with him, and I well remember his strong opposition to any suggested reduction of invalid and oldage pensions. A big story could be told of the happenings in the party room when Mr. Lyons and certain other members, who have since left the party to join the Opposition, were in the Labour caucus. But that story cannot be told here, because I do not wish it to be said that, while a member of this chamber, I was guilty of any mean ordirty action. Therefore, I am not prepared to throw open the doors of caucus and reveal to honorable senators opposite anything that was said in caucus while Mr. Lyons and his friends were in the movement. It will be told on the hustings.
– The honorable senator can tell all that he knows.
– The honorable senator would be out of order if he did so.
– The Minister has invited me to tell all that I know. ‘ My reply is that there will be a time and place to warm him up.
– The honorable senator must not use threats.
– I was merely replying to the invitation of the Minister to tell all that I know of caucus happenings. I do not propose to do that now.
The one clear issue before the Labour movement is to put into operation the first plank of its platform, which is the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Up to the present, that plank has been prostituted by this Government. To the best of my ability I shall preach that doctrine until the whole of the civilized world cancels its war debts, and establishes a 36-hour week in order to cope with the increased production due to the greater use of machinery. If the Leader of the Senate is not in agreement with the views I have expressed, I recommend him to spend a few hours in the parliamentary library studying the economic law of supply and demand. That is my answer to the Minister and to Senator Thompson.
– It is not very practical.
– It is. Not only President Hoover of the United States of America, but also many far-seeing men in other countries, realize that the world to-day is at the cross-roads, with almost every nation on the verge of either collapse or default. Britain has been relegated to the position of a second-class power, not because she believes in disarmament, but because economic laws have forced that proud nation from the strong position she held formerly. President Hoover and his responsible Ministers realize that Germany is on the verge of collapse, and that the rising tide of world thought demands for the workers better conditions than they have enjoyed in the past.
Let me again refer to the circular which I have mentioned in order to show what the Prime Minister had to say about pensions. I read -
Mr. Lyons and his followers urge that budgets should be balanced by reducing pensions and wages. The Federal Government will not agree to any cut in war, invalid and old-age pensions, which now total £20,000,000 a year, nor will it sanction any reduction in wages.
Time after time I have heard similar expressions by the Prime Minister in caucus. The right honorable gentleman said many times that rather than reduce invalid and old-age pensions he would relinquish office; that he would never prostitute the high ideals of the Labour movement by acquiescing in any reduction of pensions or salaries. Those were the proud words of the right honorable James Henry Scullin, P.O., by the grace of God, Prime Minister of Australia. The Chicago gangster, Al. Capone, has nothing on him. Although I have gained nothing from my two years of parliamentary life, rather than eat my words I would forfeit my seat in this Parliament, take my chance among my fellows by the wayside, and leave to the Opposition in this chamber and in another place the responsibility for reducing pensions. In fairness to the Opposition, I must say that the policy which it now supports has been its policy all along. Its members have preached that doctrine day and night. Indeed, the Bruce-Page Government fell because it advocated that policy. From every platform throughout the Commonwealth the members of the party, led by Mr. Bruce, said that if his government was again returned to power it would put that policy into operation. Because it advocated those ideas the Bruce-Page Government fell by the wayside. When I think of the present vacillating Labour Government - that spineless crew in another place - I can call them nothing but political prostitutes.
The . PRESIDENT.- Order! The honorable senator must withdraw that expression.
– I withdraw it, Mr. President. I made it iri the heat of the moment. Quoting again from the clr- cular, I find that the Prime Minister also said -
It is easy to escape the heavy burden of governmental expenditure by striking a blow at old-age and returned soldier pensioners. No one deserves more from their country and, because of that, the Government is determined not to interfere with those citizens who have done so much for their country. In any case the mere objective of balancing budgets would not be achieved by a reduction in pensions.
What does the Government hope to gain by reducing pensions ? I am ashamed to think that I have ever been associated with a government which would do these things. In his policy speech delivered in Richmond, Victoria, the Prime Minister said that he would never do them. He has eaten his own words, and I have nothing but contempt for him. The circular from which I have quoted again credits the right honorable gentleman with having said -
The only way would be for the Opposition to wipe out pensions altogether and thus save £20,000,000 a year; there are men in the Opposition ranks who would not be averse from taking that step. It is only the fear of political consequences that deters them from destroying the only means of subsistence which thousands of their fellow Australians possess.
What does he mean by political consequences? I know what the consequences will be to him and a number of his followers because I know the mind of the people of New South Wales. I know how I feel about them. I can only say that should I happen along, as a political wayfarer, when they are addressing meetings, I shall insist that they speak the truth.The Government need make no mistake about that. Supporters of the Government will not in my presence endeavour to throw the blame on the Opposition and hope to escape. They will not be able to say that the Opposition forced the Government to do these things. That parrot cry will be of no value. The Opposition has at least been consistent, because thepolicy it now advocates has been its policy all along. As I have said, the Bruce-Page Government went down in battle fighting for it. On the occasion to which I have referred, the Prime Minister also said -
Since this Government took office, pensions have increased by £2,000,000 a year, due to the growth of unemployment.
Unfortunately, that is true. Large numbers of persons have, through force of circumstances, . been forced to apply for pensions - a thing which previously they were too proud even to contemplate. My experience is that the average Australian prefers to work for his bread and butter rather than depend on any government for sustenance. But these unfortunates have had to sink their pride, because stress of circumstances has forced them to seek assistance. My indignation is aroused when I think that this .so-called Labour Government should be the one to introduce these proposals. Let me again quote what the right honorable gentleman said some time ago -
What a deplorable plight would be that of the pensioners if they were without the assistance which the Government now grants them. That assistance would undoubtedly be endangered once the Opposition attained power. >
The Opposition is in power, to-day, both in another place and in this chamber. I shall not say more, because I realize that if I were to speak until next week my words would make no impression on the majority opposite. The gage of battle has been thrown down. I, for one, will never do anything to reduce pensions, salaries or wages, because I hold that ft properly constituted tribunal should be set up to deal with these matters. Already the workers have suffered a reduction of 10 per cent, in their wages ; and a further 10 per cent, is now contemplated. According to a statement, in the press this morning, His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, Sir Isaac Isaacs, is prepared to return to the Treasurer £2,500 out of his allowance, but I have not heard that any member of the judiciary has expressed his willingness to forgo any portion of his emoluments. There is a lot more that L could say. I might, for instance, refer to the proposal to reduce bounties, but I shall not do so now. I conclude by saying that to support this Government - the scabbiest Government Australia has known - in its proposals is more than I can do.
– I feel that I am expressing the views of every honorable senator when I say that no one takes any pleasure in> supporting a measure of this kind; but,, unfortunately, inexorable circumstances- have forced us to take the drastic action outlined in the bill. Only one course is open to us; we must perform this unpleasant task, regardless of consequences, otherwise, the country will soon be in a worse position than it is. The alternative is unthinkable. It is said that speech reveals the thoughts of the heart. The Senate comprises 36 members, but according to some honorable senators who have spoken, a minority in this chamber is composed of different and better clay from that which goes to make up the majority. I suppose they can indulge in that idle fancy as long as they please, but it is just as well to recall to their, minds what has been done in the past by a party of the same complexion as that which is now in Opposition, in respect of the very matter with which they, are now finding fault.
An invalid and old-age pension measure was first passed in the federal sphere by the Deakin Government, with the assistance of Labour supporters, and the rate of the pension was. fixed at 10s. a week. Since then there have been four separate increases, and of these three* have been made by a Liberal or Nationalist Government, not dependent on Labour support. It is, therefore, idle for three honorable senators opposite to say that the Opposition and its supporters have no sympathy with the old people of this country, that their hearts are steel, and that the only sample of pure molten, sympathy is to be found in the ranks of this defection of the Labour party. The very fact that the Liberals or Nationalists committed themselves to effect three separate increases of taxation to provide increases of pensions for the old people of this country is ample proof of where their sympathy lies.
It is within the memory of every honorable senator that the soldiers who went from Australia were given the highest pay, and had the best conditions of any other soldiers who fought in the recent war, or, indeed, in any previous war. The liberality of the conditions under which the soldiers left our shores to fight was the result of the direct action of a Liberal Government, although I was then in opposition to it. And the pensions awarded to those soldiers on their return, on the most liberal scale in any
British possession, were also given by an “ anti-Labour “ Government, as were also the gratuities about which we have heard so much criticism. Indeed, all for which the soldiers are indebted to the community was obtained for them or given to them by a Nationalist or Liberal Government.
In passing, I may point out that oldage pensions were paid in New Zealand, where there was no Labour party, and that it was a Liberal Government in the State of Victoria, under the leadership of Sir George Turner, which, some time prior to federation, and without the aid of Labour, brought in and passed the first old-age pension system in Australia. It is about time the three gentlemen opposite gave the devil his due even if it is that evil spirit. Senator Hoare actually frothed at the mouth this afternoon, and from other honorable senators we get words, words, words. Oh, the folly of words ! It is action that counts. That is why I am giving an unchallengeable recital of facts, and not the froth.ings of latter-day Labour.
– “Who wanted to pay the soldiers ls. 3d. a day? It was a Nationalist.
– If I had times-
– Order! The question before the Chair is the Financial Emergency Bill, and not a dispute as to who gave the soldiers this or that. Of course, I understand that the position has been somewhat forced on the honorable senator.
– Charges have- been flung across the chamber that we are opposed to this, that and the other thing, and I thought it about time the truth was made known. I do not care to have certain statements go forth unless they are accompanied by a repudiation.
Let me remind honorable senators what this party has done on behalf of the civil servants of the Commonwealth. We gave them the highest wages and the best conditions of any body of public servants in the Commonwealth. We gavethem an Arbitration Court, and child endowment, superannuation, and other advantages, which no other section of employees in Australia had previously received. We gave them other considerations involving very heavy expenditure, because we wanted to see a loyal and contented service. Yet they repaid our generosity by the basest ingratitude. Those are facts which cannot be contradicted.
– The honorable senator was a Labour man.
– The honorable senator comes here from the Trades Hall in Adelaide. Trades halls are admirable institutions, and I hope that they will come into their own again, and enjoy once more the popular estimation in which they were once held. But judging by their present-day representatives, they are now evidently nothing but fattening paddocks for all the gabbling windbags in the land. They turn out a type of men who could not manage a duck-house if given control of it.
This afternoon we have heard, without rhyme or reason, one long, weary declaration of a wrecking. The policy enunciated has been simply that of pulling down, without a single suggestion of how to build up again, or meet the present situation. Lord Byron said -
Aman must serve his time to every trade,
Save censure - critics all are ready made.
Critics can, without serving any time to the trade, engage in a policy of wrecklessly pulling down what has been laboriously put up by the best brains that this population of 6,000,000 people has sent to the Commonwealth Parliament. The brightest and most glorious sample of architecture ever conceived by the brain of man can be pulled down by a South African baboon, and some of our critics in this chamber are not far removed from him.
– The honorable senator must not indulge in personalities.
– I am merely showing how easy it is to pull down. If the Eiffel Tower were built of bricks, half a dozen South African baboons could pull it down in an afternoon, but it takes a genius to draft the plan for the building of such a structure.
– The honorable senator has been a political “ scab “ all his life.
– Order ! The honorable senator must withdraw that remark.
– With all due respect to you, Mr. President, and to your high and distinguished office, I submit that you allowed Senator Lynch to call us baboons and did not call upon him to withdraw. Yet when I interject I am called to order.
– The honorable senator must not reflect on the Chair.
– I realize that I must not do so. I realize your distinguished position.
– I call upon the honorable senator once more to withdraw the expression he has used.
– With all due courtesy to you, I withdraw it, but I also ask you to call upon Senator Lynch to withdraw.
– Order ! I point out to the Senate, generally, that indulgance in personalities always leads to recriminations and disorder.
– Pulling down connotes an obligation to rebuild. I should have thought that before this the critics of the bill, instead of impugning the motives of other honorable senators, would have vouchsafed something to take the place of the plan they condemn. In dealing with that subject, however, I hope that I have not hurt the feelings of any one. Nothing was further from my thoughts.
Wehave before us a bill to do something to fill in the void. I quote the following from the Sydney Morning Herald on the present situation : -
Thu proposed increase in the income tax would only have the effect of taking more money out of industry and intensifying unemployment. At the present rate, income tax would reach vanishing point, because in time there would be nothing left to tax.
That sounds very much like the opinion of the Sydney Morning Herald itself; but it is really the utterance in another place of the leader of the three honorable senators opposite. I refer to Mr. Lazzarini. That the only reliable source from which revenue can be obtained to make up the £20,000,000 odd deficit is nearly dried up, is the statement of the Moses, to to speak, of thisdefecting body, the Labour party No. 2, We can therefore assume that it is correct to say that no more revenue is to be obtained from income taxation - that the field of income taxation is incapable of producing anything further in the shape of revenue. What is the alternative? Are we anxious to default and besmirch the name of our people? Do we want to be looked upon by the world as a people who cannot pay their public servants or pensioners ? Yet when a proposition is put before honorable senators to do something towards meeting the situation, it is met with the babbling criticism we have heard this afternoon. We must face the situation as heirs of that grand old pioneering stock which never said “we cannot” when the greatest difficulties confronted them, and not as poltroons like those who to-day are clamouring “ It cannot be done “, and in their clamouring, appeal to the votes of the unthinking people outside. It is time the right horse was saddled, time false charges were flung back in the false teeth of those who have been claiming that they and they alone are the lone champions and defenders of old-age pensioners, soldiers, and public servants. Who are these men? They are those who, in the classic language of the members of their own party, are “ scabbing “ upon their party. They are “ scabs,” and nothing else.
– Again I ‘ appeal to the honorable, senator not to indulge in personalities.
– I submit, sir, that I am not referring to any particular honorable senator. . We know that the Labour party has a constitution, and that those members of that party who have any honour enter the party upon one condition - that they will abide by the platform of the party, as decided upon “by the majority of members in caucus assembled. But this disloyal and rebellious remnant has disregarded the decision of the majority, in order to curry favour with their followers outside. These disloyal and disgruntled Labourites are now seeking to score off their mates. The appeal made by this remnant of the party in this chamber does not fall on friendly or receptive ears. We do not want to hear the sordid, squalid story of their systematic deception. We do not want to assist those who wish to reap rewards by falsehoods and treachery.
– I ask the honorable senator to discuss the subject-matter of the bill.
– I intend to do so, but for the benefit of the electors these things should be said. It has been stated that, at the end of the financial year, we shall be faced with a deficit of £10,000,000; but, if the Hoover plan materializes, our deficit this year may be reduced by £1,500,000. The budget statement of the Treasurer shows that there has been some cheese-paring and pinching. That is necessary. When we speak of cheese-paring and pinching, it shows that some one has still something left. But there are tens of thousands of citizens in this country who cannot be further cut or pinched, because they have nothing , left to pinch or pare. I am making an appeal on behalf of those concerning whom I know the most. I am thinking of the wheat-growers, who are absolutely steeped in debt and misery as a result of the vigorous efforts they have made to keep this country’s head above water. Appeals have been made for the retention of the existing salaries and wages of public servants, and the existing scale of payments to invalid, old-age, and war pensioners,” for all of whom the Nationalist party has done so much. But what is the position of that vast army of workers operating in the far interior who, working day and night, are helping Australia to maintain a surplus of exportable products, and thus to retain its good name in the eyes of the World? Nothing is said on their behalf. Earnest pleas are made on behalf of every section of the community, with the exception of those who are assisting in the development of this country, and without whose efforts we would not be in a position to pay any pensions at all. It is only by the industry and efforts of these people that we have been able to do what we have in the past.
We have heard this afternoon that world conditions are responsible for our present position; but world conditions were not mentioned at the last general election. All the blame for the approaching depression was placed upon the Bruce-Page Government. This Government, finding that it cannot remedy the position, and that it is hi deep water, now blames world conditions and generally leaves the BrucePage Administration alone. We did not hear anything about world conditions during the last general election, but we hear it now. Many promises were then made by the Labour party and members and supporters of the Government now admit that those promises cannot be honoured. Our present problem is to endeavour to square the ledger, and to pay our debts. Some of the critics of this measure stated this afternoon that we must borrow money to meet our commitments, or increase our currency, which means depreciating its value. They contend that, if we cannot do that, we cannot pay our debts abroad. Has the Australian character reached such a degrading level? Under the laws of this country an honourless defaulter who steps in front of a tram car is entitled to the same protection as a self-respecting citizen. If I had my way, and a defaulter stepped in front of a tram, I would say, “Drive on.” These honorable senators opposite strive to besmirch Australia’s good name, because they do not believe in getting down to work and following in the footsteps of our grand old pioneers, who developed this great country. The bad spirit in the body politic is mainly responsible for the position we are in to-day. Of late, governments in this country have shown themselves incapable of governing. Outside authorities, which believe in shorter hours, easier conditions, and decreased production, have taken away the power of governments. If we could export £20,000,000 worth of coal and £50,000,000 worth of secondary production, the same as the wheat men and the dairymen have done, we should not be faced with default; but would be able to maintain the present salaries of public servants and existing pension rates. This is impossible owing to- the sinister action of those dictators and self-styled industrial emperors who have paralyzed industry in this country. Production is down to zero, and we cannot pay our debts. We are now confronted with the fruits of false economics. Although Australia is a young country enjoying the best which nature can provide, we are in a worse plight than many countries not so richly endowed. This is due solely to bad habits. We must rid ourselves of them. Are we to sink lower and lower in the estimation of the nations of the world without whose co-operation, assistance, and respect we cannot progress? It is only by reverting to the conditions which prevailed twenty years ago that we can expect to prosper.
I have every sympathy with our invalid, old-age and war pensioners for whom, by acts and public declarations, I have striven to provide those payments of which they are now asked to give up part.
– To surrender.
– It is utterances of that nature that bring democracy to the dust. How can we have a sane democracy when it is represented by persons such as Senator Hoare?
– I again ask the honorable senator to discuss the bill.
– These interjections are hurled at me, and being human, I must answer them. We have to listen to the buzzing of a mosquito whether we like it or not.
– Order !
– The proposals embodied in this measure are not pleasing to honorable senators on this side of the chamber. I cannot allow three or four honorable senators opposite to suggest that they have hearts of gold, while we have hearts of steel. Unfortunately, the members of this disloyal element go out to the people and endeavour to make them believe-
– If I am not permitted to express my .opinion of them here, they at least will be exposed at the proper time.
In a sense, I have some sympathy with the party governing this country to-day; but I have no sympathy whatever with those remnants of the Labour party who should have been caught by the scruff of the neck and bundled out long ago. By that means a movement which once enjoyed the confidence of the people of Australia would have been cleansed. Unfortunately, the Labour party has embraced persons of the type to which I have referred, and, as a result of its actions, Australia’s position has reached the stage reflected in this measure.
The Labour movement now presents a sore and sorry spectacle consisting, as it does, of nothing but a mass of warring elements. These irascible members of the Labour party should join up with the communists and go to Russia or to some other country, anywhere out of here. They should not remain in Australia.
– Back to Ireland.
– If the honorable senator were in Ireland, St. Patrick would put him out with the snakes.
– I ask Senator Hoare to realize that, by interjecting, he is deliberately defying the Chair.
– What about Senator Lynch ? He is calling us everything but men.
– Order !
– I have generous feelings towards some members of the Labour party; my attitude towards some of them is that of a kind parent teaching a disobedient child to behave.
– The honorable senator must discuss the bill.
– This measure provides for a reduction of £1,200,000 in certain governmental expenditure. Every one would like that amount to remain in the pockets of those who have to make sacrifices. No one on this side wishes to take one penny piece from them if it can be avoided; that is shown by the attitude we have adopted towards them in the past. I earnestly hope that the present depression will not continue, but I am afraid that if we do not learn a lesson from the difficulties with which we are now surrounded, we shall have recurring depressions, and instead of this set-back being of any advantage it will eventually bring about our undoing. There is no other country in which the public servants and pensioners are treated better than they are in Australia. We do not want to make their position worse, but merely to keep it at the dead level which economic conditions demand. When we realize that there are citizens in this country working day and night without any reward at all, we are justified in asking that those who do possess something should contribute their share to the general sacrifice so that Australia may retain whatever reputation it still has in the eyes of the world. The leader of the fragment of the Labour party said that further taxation cannot be imposed because the people have not the means to pay it. Notwithstanding what this prophet of that party has said, we hear, from members of it, criticisms of the Government’s policy such as was indulged in this afternoon. The task before us is exceedingly unpleasant. If it were possible, I would favour a postponement of the proposed reductions; but we know it is impossible. We have to meet certain commitments by the end of this month, and these reductions must be made while there is a chance of Australia retaining its good name, and so that the words “ Advance Australia “, which appear on the Australian coat of arms, may still be our watchword. The only way in which Australia can advance is by our ensuring that the sacrifices to be made shall be equitable. I support the bill, though unwillingly. I feel that there is no alternative to it. I hope that we shall soon see a return to normal conditions as a result of the restoration of confidence, honest industry, and the application in the industrial field of a spirit of co-operation, without which Australia will not progress. The absence of that spirit, and the dissemination of certain villainous doctrines, that have been preached in this country overlong, have brought industry and production to a. standstill, with the result that we have not the necessary money to pay our debts. That money can come from only one source, and that is mother nature, aided by man’s endeavour. When men are not given encouragement, they will not labour to make nature productive. I hope that all will learn a lesson from their experiences, and that they will work better together and refrain from vituperation. The only effect of a spirit of antagonism is to make otherwise normally balanced men and women ready for any state of society, even anarchy. The glorious freedom that we now possess cannot be maintained unless we work assiduously and honestly. The responsibility is ours. During my lifetime I have witnessed the departure of a number of socialists for South America with the object of establishing in that country a new State untrammelled by any existing social. influences. They failed to make a success of the venture despite the fact that they -were the very cream of the Labour movement of the day. We are the advisers of the nation, and it is our duty to pull together. As I have said previously, when a ship is labouring in a hurricane, all hands from the captain to the cabin boy have to pull on the ropes ; there is no time for recrimination then. Should a recalcitrant cook or sailor dare to cause trouble, ho is tossed overboard. That is the treatment which should be meted out to those who stand in the way of the adoption of a true, spirit of co-operation and mateship in Australia to-day. This glorious land is capable of supporting millions of people; and if all false influences were rooted OUt we should return to the times,, the spirit, the habits, and happiness of our forefathers-.
– The speech that was delivered this afternoon by Senator Dunn furnished honorable senators with a striking illustration of what Labour Munsters have to put up with from their supporters in caucus. Nor must it be forgotten that that honorable senator was one of the most prominent of those who secured the re-election of Mr. Theodore to the position of Treasurer of this Commonwealth. This is the first important financial measure that that gentleman has brought forward as Treasurer, yet no term is too vituperative or bitter for the honorable senator to apply to it.
Less than a year ago, when Mr. Lyons as Acting Treasurer accepted a plan of national economy which was very much lighter than the plan we are now considering, it did not meet the wishes of Senator Dunn, and those who are associated with him politically; and they were not satisfied until they had driven Mr. Lyons and Mr. Fenton - two public-spirited, honorable gentlemen - out of the Ministry, and replaced them with Mr. Theodore. “The PRESIDENT.- Will the honorable senator now deal with the bill?
–That was a change of which I did not approve. I have read very carefully the plan for meeting the grave financial emergency that exists in Australia, re-establishing financial stability, and restoring industrial and general prosperity. Looking through the reports of the Melbourne con ference, I find that Mr. Lang played a prominent part in its deliberations, and that at its conclusion he accepted the general provisions of the scheme, and promised that he would make corresponding reductions in the State expenditure of New South Wales, provided that the Commonwealth Government first secured a reduction of interest rates on the internal debt.
– He also made the reservation that each State should make reductions as it thought fit.
– That is so. But he agreed to a corresponding measure of State economy in New South Wales. Senator Dunn was one of those who have gone from State to State preaching the Lang plan; yet the federal measures that correspond with those that Mr. Lang promised to implement meet with nothing except disapprobation from him and other members of the Lang group.
No one looks upon this plan with any degree of pleasure. Representatives of the Country party did not participate in. the deliberations of the Melbourne conference, and probably on that account this measure is not complete and will not be properly effective. I consider that the conference acted wisely when it invited the co-operation of the Leader (Mr. Lyons) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) in another place, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Pearce), in the formulation of measures to right the financial position ; but considering that the Country party is recognized throughout Australia as a separate and independent party in Opposition in this Parliament, the Government was guilty of a serious omission when it failed to seek its assistance. We of the Country party can well say, as Sir Robert Gibson said a few weeks ago, that this is not our baby; we had nothing to do with it, and it was not our fault that we were not permitted to share in its preparations Probably, knowing that our policy has always been one of economy and reduced costs of administration, it was felt that we could be relied upon to support any measures designed to advance the national welfare.
I cannot understand why the most important of the recommendations of the experts and economists has not been given effect in the plan. I find that the economists unanimously recommended that this scheme should be accompanied by a general reduction of the extreme protective duties, and the Abolition of embargoes and rationing, which have been in operation during the last couple of years.
– The honorable senator will notice that the bill deals with reductions in salaries.
– I have noted that. Reading the report of the economists, on which the plan has been based, I find that the bill covers many of their recommendations.
– Only those recommendations can be discussed which are cognate to the bill.
– I cannot find in the bill any provision to give effect to the recommendation of the experts that there should be. a reduction of high customs duties, and a more liberal exemption of basic foods and instruments of production. That seems to me to be the most important of their recommendations; and I consider that a grave injustice is’ being done by refraining from putting the whole scheme into operation. Public servants,, returned soldiers, pensioners, and other sections of the community are being asked to accept a lower remuneration. The experts who recommended that that should be done, also recommended that- such a reduction of income should be accompanied by a lowering of the cost of living and the cost of production by an alteration of the tariff. The scheme, as it has been placed before us, is incomplete, because those who are to be called upon to suffer reductions are not to receive corresponding benefits from the reduced cost of living that would have been assured had the whole of the recommendations of the experts been given effect.
– The honorable senator’s party in another place tried to defeat the Government last night on this very point, and failed to do so.
– That failure was not on the merits of the case, but was due to an exhibition of mistaken patriotism by some honorable members of another place who were prepared to accept what they could wrest from an unwilling administration. Concurrently with this legislation the Government is introducing measures to increase the sales tax and primage duties, despite the fact that a minority of the economists disagreed with that recommendation. I am entirely opposed to the increases in the sales tax, and primage duties.
In regard to soldiers’ pensions, the original proposal was for a reduction of 20 per cent, throughout ; but an investigation was made by a committee representing returned soldier organizations, and I am pleased that that committee arrived at a series of decisions which were acceptable to the Government, and are embodied in this measure. It was decided, and properly accepted, that the pension should not be reduced in the case of the returned man himself, or of some of those who are directly dependent upon him. At the same time, however, the fact must not be overlooked that the returned soldiers are making a very great sacrifice on account of the reduction of the pensions of their dependants. I have no doubt, that our returned soldiers have, in this matter displayed the same spirit of self-sacrifice in the present emergency as they did when the call came to them in 1914. “ Peace hath its victories no less renowned than war.” But evidently some uneasiness is being felt about the probable effect of this scheme upon certain sections of our ex-service men. Yesterday I received the following telegram from Mr. Beyers, the secretary of the Limbless Soldiers Association, Sydney: -
This association views with grave apprehension amendment Financial Emergency .Bill, part 3 paragraph 3 (a). This would give too much discretionary power to commissions. Parliament should decide pensions matters or fix commission’s powers definitely.
– That is being attended to.
– I am pleased to have the assurance of the Minister that the matter complained of by the Limbless Soldiers Association is to be attended to, because I am sure it is the wish of every member of the Senate that the Commonwealth should be generous in its treatment of all our war pensioners. That, I believe, is also the desire of the Government.
The salaries of members of Parliament are to be reduced. If one studies the history of the salary increases since the inception of federation, one is forced to the conclusion that, in this adjustment scheme, members escape somewhat lightly. Originally the remuneration of members of Parliament was fixed at £400 a year; before many years had elapsed it was raised to £600, and some years later to £1,000 a year. A few months ago, as the first instalment of the financial emergency plan, members suffered a reduction of £100 a year, and now they will lose another £100. If the reductions had been on the same scale as the increases, the amount to be deducted from members’ salaries would be much larger, and personally I should have preferred the Government to take that course. In this emergency parliamentary salaries should have been reduced to the original amount of £400 per annum.
I turn now to the proposed reduction of the gold bounty by 50 per cent. Compared with the proposals relating to other industries, gold-mining is hit pretty heavily. Bounties on production of cotton, flax, linseed, iron and steel products, Papua and New Guinea industries, power alcohol, wine export, &c., are to be reduced by only 20 per cent. I fail to understand why the gold-mining industry should have been singled out for such unfair treatment.
– It gets the advantage of the higher exchange rate.
– The same may be said of all the other export industries.
– But the bounty is not payable in all cases on the export production.
– That is true, but if a reduction of 20 per cent, in respect of other industries is regarded as a fair contribution to the rehabilitation scheme, why should not the gold-mining industry be treated in the same way? I object to this differentiation, and I also remind the Senate that, up to the present, no bounty has yet been paid to the goldmining industry. The bill authorizing payment of the bounty was passed only in December last, and the principal object in view was to attract outside capital, and so provide more employment. Moreover, the bounty is not payable in respect of the entire output, as is the case with other primary industries, but only on the excess production over the average of the three preceding years. Gold is the only commodity for which there is an unlimited market. Consequently, there can be no over-production, and unless those engaged in the industry undertake to work all available ore in a mine, whether it is profitable or not, they will not be eligible for the bounty. Naturally, this proposal to reduce the bounty by 50 per cent, is causing considerable concern, as will be seen from the following telegram which I have received from the Mayor of Kalgoorlie: -
Gold-fields people’ indignant at Federal Treasurer’s proposed reduction gold bounty and disregard of regrettable consequences which would accrue from reduced investment capital and employment and the injustice to Western Australia. Request you to do utmost to protect Western Australian interests and prevent reduction bounty.
The secretary of the Mining Association in Western Australia also sent a telegram to me in these terms -
The Mining Association of Western Australia Incorporated, urgently requests your most active endeavours to resist this unfair discrimination which the proposed reduction of gold bounty will entail as compared with reduction of bonuses to other industries.
The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), in justification of this proposed reduction, said it would mean a saving of £100,000 in the expenditure for the current financial year, the amount available being reduced from £200,000 to £100,000. In my opinion, his figures are entirely wrong. I have examined the official returns of the gold yield in Western Australia from the 1st January to the 30th June last, and I find that the output was 225,283 oz., representing an increase of 29,197 oz. over the corresponding period of the previous year. From this it would seem that even if greater efforts are made by people engaged in industry to further increase the output, it is unlikely that the yield this year will be more than 70,000 oz. above the average for the previous three years, and on that basis the bounty as approved by Parliament’ will amount to £70,000 - not £200,000 as suggested by the Treasurer. I have also studied carefully the report of the Premiers Conference, and I failed to discover any reference to a reduction of the gold bounty. I am, therefore, forced to the conclusion that this proposal is outside the plan altogether, and. is really another gratuitous knock given to the gold-mining industry by the present Government. The Treasurer advanced two reasons why the reduction should be made. He said that it was justified on the ground that the rate of exchange had increased from £9 per cent, to over £30 per cent., but omitted to mention that, while this advance in the exchange rate is helpful to the gold-mining industry, it is equally helpful to all our other export industries which are assisted by means of bounties.
– But not quite to the same extent as the gold industry.
– I think it would be if the system of marketing our exports were up to date. The Treasurer stated also that the reduction in the gold bounty would bring it into line with the reductions of salaries, wages, pensions, and the other economies. That is not so, because, as I have already shown, bounties, in respect of other industries, are being reduced by only 20 per cent., whereas the gold bounty is being cut down by 50 per cent. I strongly object to this unfair discrimination, which really amounts to repudiation.
Let us compare this treatment of our primary industries with the assistance given to our secondary industries. In December last the Government passed a bill providing for the payment of 3s. a bushel on the season’s wheat production, but up to the present not one penny has been paid to our farmers under that measure. The second of our great primary industries is gold-mining, to assist which legislation was passed only in December last, and, as in the case of the wheat industry, no payment has yet been made to gold producers. Now the bounty is to be cut down by 50 per cent. I am afraid that the good effect produced in England and elsewhere by the declaration of the Government’s intention to assist the industry will be seriously marred by its latest announcement to reduce the bounty by 50 per cent.
– “What will it amount to ?
– -The amount paid will depend upon the production. 1 imagine that bounty on the excess production will be about 6s. or 7s. per oz. if the proposed reduction of 50 per cent, is not made. On the other hand, the tariff is not being reduced. Notwithstanding that the experts recommended a reduction of embargoes on the importation of certain basic foods - I take it that they referred particularly to sugar - the price of sugar remains the same. The wheat and gold industries, which Parliament said should be assisted, are to get practically nothing. Because of some alleged legal difficulty the wheat guarantee of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. is not to be paid, while the gold bounty, which was agreed to by this Parliament, is to be reduced by 50 per cent. How different the treatment meted out to those industries from that given to secondary industries by the tariff, and to the sugar industry, particu.larly when we reflect that neither the tariff nor the sugar agreement has received the sanction of Parliament. Secondary industries and the sugar industry are to be given the full measure of protection that they have enjoyed in the past, although there is no legislative sanction for what has been done. “We hear a good deal of the necessity for all sections of the community sharing in the sacrifice which has to be made; but in practice we find that certain industries are still to be given preferential treatment.
– Does the honorable senator think that this bill provides for equality of sacrifice?
– The honorable senator has touched the very point which I have been emphasizing. There can be no equality of sacrifice so long as the sugar embargo remains, and the high protective duties imposed by the tariff are not removed or reduced.
– Does the honorable senator consider that bondholders are being called upon to make a fair contribution?
– I should not be in order in discussing that matter at length now, seeing that it is dealt with in another measure. I may be permitted, however, to say that I expect that the bondholders will voluntarily accept the measure of sacrifice asked of them. I shall do all that I can to ensure the success of the conversion loan. I believe that in this time of national emergency the sacrifice which must be made should be spread as equitably as possible over the whole community.
– Inequality of treatment is shown in other directions than in the treatment of bondholders.
– That is so. I regret that it is impossible to evolve a plan which will ensure equality of treatment to all. Those on the lower rungs of the ladder - the small bondholders, the public servants, and pensioners generally - will suffer most. It was because I believe that the plan will bring hardship to these people that I said earlier that I would be prepared to support proposals which would demand a greater sacrifice on the part of highly paid officers and members of Parliament. I claim that there has been an unjust and repudiatory discrimination against the wheat and the gold industries as compared with manufacturing industries.
– Why did the honorable senator vote against the Wheat Bill?
– I have supported every measure which I bave believed was in the interest of the wheat-farmers of this country. Had Senator Dunn ‘ worked as hard for the wheat-growers as be worked to get Mr. Theodore reinstated in the Ministry, the wheat-farmers might have had a guaranteed price paid to them for their wheat months ago. I appeal to the Government, even at this late hour, to accept the recommendations of the financial experts and economists in relation to tariff reduction. I also urge that the reduction of the gold bounty should not be more than the 20 per cent, which will apply to other bounties. I hope that the Government will see the wisdom of reducing the customs duties by at least 20 per cent. It would be better to reduce the tariff by 50 per cent, and the gold bounty by 20- per cent, than to do what the Government now proposes. Were my suggestion accepted, public servants and pensioners would be better able to meet their obligations. I strongly appeal to the Government to treat the sugar industry as other industries are being treated under this measure. If the Government would adopt these suggestions, its proposals would be more acceptable to the people, particularly those living in rural areas.
Sitting suspended from 6. IS to 8 p.m.
– In the discussion of this bill those who are opposed to the present proposals have been subjected to a great deal of criticism on the ground that they have put forward no alternative, and the proposal to reduce pensions, salaries and so forth, has been justified on the ground that if these reductions are not made a worse reduction will have to follow. With the reductions already proposed, and the anticipated saving in interest payments as the result of the proposed conversion loan, there will still be a deficit of considerable magnitude. There is, therefore, a common admission on the part of those who believe in these proposals that they are but a partial remedy. For my part I believe- that they will prove to be useless. I cannot see how it can be contended that even if these reductions and savings go some little distance towards balancing the budget they will do anything to bring about that increase of employment, which it is said will result from the increased confidence that will be generated by an attempt to live within our means, and by a general desire on the part of all sections of the community to make sacrifices to attain that end. It will take a great deal more than these puny efforts to- bring about a general revival of confidence.
It has been urged with a good deal of truth that the immediate cause of our troubles is overborrowing combined with more or less extravagant spending. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber have often been twitted with having, said nothing in the nature of condemnation of further borrowing. It has been claimed that our present attitude towards further borrowing is a new-found zeal on our part, and that we have never hitherto advocated anything of the kind. It was 40 years ago last month that I had the honour to be elected a member of the New South Wales Parliament. I was one of the first Labour members to be returned. Not long ‘afterwards I sounded awarning note against the prevalence of borrowing. The indebtedness of New South Wales was then about £51,000,000. It is now approaching £220,000,000. At that time New South Wales had enormous land revenues from rentals and instalments of conditional purchase money, and I claimed that it would be a good policy if expenditure on public works was limited to the amount of those funds which were treated as though they were income, and not part of the capital of the country, as they really were. I said that that would be much preferable to going into debt for the construction of public works. I have mentioned this to show that I for one could see the evils of unlimited borrowing 40 years ago.
Subsequently, at a Labour conference I succeeded in having a motion carried against any further borrowing. That resolution was afterwards watered down by so many exceptions that it was utterly useless, and I admit it has never been acted upon. One Minister of the Crown, not a Labour Minister, had justified borrowing on the ground that in prosperous times we can afford it, and in bad times it is absolutely necessary. There are certain works which cannot become immediately reproductive but yet are eminently desirable, and in. my opinion it is quite legitimate to borrow to carry them out. But while that may be so in the case of the individual who wishes to extend his business or improve his property, it is not necessarily so in regard to the State. I contend that by the utilization of our own credit, by destroying private banking and all the evils associated with it, we could find adequate means for financing any necessary works, say for defence or improvements, without imposing any interest burden on the community. Until the people generally are sufficiently alive to insist upon that policy being carried into effect, we shall continue to suffer as we do now from recurring commercial crises.
While borrowing may have accentuated our troubles far more fundamental causes have brought about our present position. Every country in the world which becomes industrialized is continually seeking foreign markets on account of the restricted purchasing power of its own people, brought about largely by the fact that machinery is displacing manual labour. The world is thus losing at both ends. On the one hand there is a continually increasing number of industrialized countries producing by machinery an excess of commodities which they formerly imported; on the other there are fewer markets for the disposal of the surplus products of these countries. Such a state of affairs must inevitably lead sooner or later to a collapse of the whole system. If we in Australia succeed in producing more woollen goods or cotton goods than are sufficient to meet our own requirements, we must try to find a market for our surplus. When we reach that stage we shall find that it will pay us best to engage in mass production. If some firms make profits in that way others will seek to emulate their example. As a consequence Australia’s production will speedily overtake local requirements, and we shall need to seek for markets abroad. When we do so we shall have here what happened in Great Britain, which we know was the first country in the world to develop the modern factory system. By such inventions as the steam engine, the power loom, and the spinning jenny, and by the adoption of special means of transportation, Great Britain succeeded in building up an enormous and profitable trade with almost the whole of the world, particularly in textile goods. In course of time other countries set out to emulate Great Britain, and started the manufacture of those goods for themselves. In the end, Great Britain, instead of exporting textiles as its principal line, began to send to foreign countries machinery for the manufacture in those countries of their local requirements in textiles. And by and by, when those countries became further industrialized, they commenced to manufacture their own machinery. The process has been going on in an increasing number of countries until, finally, the production of goods has exceeded the world’s demand.
While competition may be a good thing for the individual who succeeds by his ability in knocking out his fellow competitors, and in that way secures a monopoly, it inevitably results in others attempting the same methods.
The cry for a cheapening in the cost of production has no permanent advantage to any of those concerned in its operation. In the first place, Australia starts out by saying that it cannot compete with Europe because the wages here are higher than they are in Europe, and, therefore, our wages must be reduced to the European level. There are, of course, other elements to be taken into consideration, such as distance from markets and so forth; but by a general reduction in wages we may succeed in increasing our ability to compete with other nations. We find, however, that Great Britain, not satisfied with the profits made largely in past years, is investing its surplus capital in opening up manufactures in countries where labour is a good deal cheaper than it is in any part of Europe. In India and China, not only have millions of spindles been put into operation in the textile industry, but also iron and steel production is being carried on in competition with Great Britain. It is, therefore, not sufficient for us merely to reduce our standard of wages to the European level if we are to be permanently successful competitors in the world markets ; and, notwithstanding the reproof administered to me the other day by Senator Herbert Hays, I still maintain that we must come down to the coolie level; because coolies are now manufacturing at coolie wages. While European nations, particularly Great Britain, have invested tremendous capital sums in the establishment of mills in India and to some extent “in China, it is Indian or Chinese labour that does the work at such a low fate of wage that we cannot expect to compete unless we come down to the same level.
– The honorable ‘ senator does not suggest that the efficiency of the coolie is anything like that of the Australian.
– In many industries it is a matter of touching a button and the machine does the rest.
– I have already touched briefly on the enormous displacement of human labour by machinery. It is indisputable that where labour is phenomenally cheap compared with our standard, it pays in many instances not to use machines. The low cost of labour is more than sufficient to counteract the value of the machines.
– That is so in Egypt.
– While cheap labour is comparatively inefficient, and it may take six Indians or Chinese to equal the efficiency of a skilled European, six or even ten Chinese can be employed for the wages a well-paid European would demand.
– If all communities were paid at that wage there would be no production, because no one could afford to buy what was produced.
– That is a position the logical outcome of which is unemployment, poverty, and financial stringency. The competition which is proceeding now between one country and another can only lead to a reduction in the cost of production, and a reduction of labour costs in any country tends to destroy its home market. If every nation destroys its home market, and has to depend entirely upon foreign markets where labour is also cheap, the result which I have indicated is sure to follow. Until recent years, all the clothing requirements of India were met by home production. As we know, Gandhi has been attempting to put the. clock back by bringing about that condition once again. Under the Gandhi system millions of people are clothing themselves from the products of their own looms to such an extent that British trade in a number of branches of the textile industry has been reduced. This is causing alarm to Lancashire manufacturers, who hitherto controlled the business.
The facts to which I have briefly alluded are ‘ in themselves sufficient to account for a good deal of the prevailing poverty and unemployment throughout the world. Hitherto, we have prided ourselves on being physically and mentally superior to the peoples of other countries, but that is mere humbug. It is not what we say concerning our virtues that proves their existence. As with communities so with individuals. Every honorable senator will agree that there is nothing more nauseating than to hear any individual boasting of his own abilities and virtues. “We should leave to others the recital of the wonderful virtues we claim to possess, but there is nothing so ridiculous or so stupid as to imagine that the people of other countries do not possess similar virtues. “While it may be fair to ask honorable senators on this side of the chamber what alternatives we have to offer to these proposals, I cannot agree with Senator Brennan that we should adopt them merely because they have been prepared by committees of alleged experts with the assistance of those great statesmen representing the various States of the Commonwealth. Surely it is not suggested that the combined brains of these persons are infinitely superior to ours, and that it would be an act of presumption to criticize their socalled wonderful work. No matter what ability they have displayed in working out the details of these proposals, I cannot see any value whatever in the underlying principles on which they are based- and submit that there is an alternative, which has already been mentioned. I consider it not merely an economic and political mistake to reduce invalid, old-age and war pensions, but an absolute crime of the greatest magnitude. “When speaking on the Commonwealth Debt Conversion Bill, I said that in any decent home in any part of Christendom, a sick, disabled or blinded member of a family receives the utmost care which the other members of the family can bestow upon him. The comforts or luxuries are always given to the most helpless member of the family.
– There is nothing to prevent that still being done by the individual.
– No; to the extent of his means. As we consider it not merely our bounden duty, but a labour of love, to so act towards the disabled in the household, the government of a country should compel others to give, even to their last shilling, in order to help those who are so sadly placed. Although the members of this Parliament are about to suffer a second reduction in their allowances, I should be content to further reduce the amount to the level of the basic wage - even though it would hamper us in meeting our commitments made when we were paid on a higher scales - rather than we should penalize or place obstacles in the way of pensioners. “Why should we rob the blind, the halt and the maimed of the miserable pittance that is being paid to them? Some honorable senators endeavour to excuse themselves for supporting this dastardly act on the ground that we are still doing more for pensioners than is done in any other country. In Great Britain the measure of poor relief, which is commonly referred to as the “ dole is double what it is in Australia.
– The honorable senator knows that that is a system of national insurance.
– On a contributory basis.
– The British Government has borrowed millions to assist those who have no opportunity of contributing. Millions of persons in Great Britain have been out of employment for such a long period that they have been unable to contribute to any unemployment insurance fund. They have become so numerous that the British Government has been compelled to allocate millions of pounds for their relief. There are many other countries in which unemployment insurance schemes are in operation. If one peruses the reports furnished by the International Labour Office at Geneva they will find that there are many contributing’ schemes under which poverty is alleviated on a system far in advance of anything yet attempted in this country. Child endowment is not singular to Australia. This measure provides for a reduction in invalid, old-age and war pensions, but, in my opinion, the limbless and blinded soldiers are bearing the most severe affliction that can possibly be borne by any human being. I know of nothing more terrible than the position of a limbless person, irrespective of his means, who has to depend upon the services of others for the little comfort and attention he receives. Notwithstanding this, the Government proposes to rob these unfortunate people of the miserable pittance, to which they are now entitled, on the false cry of equality of sacrifice. Why should these men be deprived of their pensions?
– There is too much talk of equality of sacrifice, particularly in regard to returned soldiers..
– Yes. These pensioners should not be deprived of a cent while others in the community are in possession of any means at all. By so doing we. are placing additional hardships upon those whose miseries no physically-fit person can visualize. I regard the action of the Government in this instance not merely as a blunder, but as the greatest crime which has ever been perpetrated in the history of Australia.
– The pensions of limbless and blinded soldiers are not to be reduced.
– A number of provisions relate to a reduction of pensions.
– But not of the pensions of limbless soldiers.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that the whole of these proposed reductions have been remitted?
– The pensions of the limbless and blinded soldiers are not to be reduced.
– At any rate, the arguments I have adduced with respect to certain returned soldiers can also be used, although not to the same degree, in connexion with invalid and old-age pensions. Senator Lynch was particularly eloquent in repeating what he has often said concerning the grand old pioneers of this country, and yet we are asked to deprive many of these pioneers of their only means of livelihood. If these people are to be penalized in order to reduce expenditure, the Government should consider a further reduction in members’ allowances.
– What about doing it?
– Why not treat all alike? If we so reduce the payment to old-age and invalid pensioners that they will find it more difficult to obtain the comforts of life, and, in the case of the sick and infirm, those little comparative luxuries that are necessary, but which the physically fit can do without, before passing legislation cutting to the bone all other incomes, we shall commit not. merely a blunder, but a crime; and I am prepared to denounce it from every plat-, form in Australia.
– If every income were cut to the bone, from what source would the money be obtained to pay pensions?
– Let us take what we can; there will still be something left. According to the statements of some honorable senators, we shall all be badly left unless we can effect some improvement in the financial position. I contend, however, that nothing can justify the cutting of pensions. I admit that public servants occupy a comparatively sheltered position, and that where ‘they are over-paid a reduction should be made.
– Are any of them over-paid ?
– That is known only to those who are in close touch with the departments. It is well known that the vast majority of our public servants are in the employ of the Postal Department, the average of whose salaries is low enough already. I would not attack them while other sources were left untapped.
In regard to alternatives, Senator Dunn has suggested a method which probably could not be operated immediately, but which it can be demonstrated has a perfectly sound basis. I propose an immediate alternative which could be embodied in this measure. It is, that we should make the cut in interest very much more drastic than is proposed. It has been said that we who sit on this side denounce bondholders as though they are criminals. Those who argue in that way put up a man of straw such as our Nationalist friends are so apt to raise merely in order that they might knock him down again. I do not suggest that the bondholders are either any worse or any better than other men. It is just .as legitimate to invest money in bonds as in any other direction, while the existing system operates, and it is considered necessary to borrow money. I have no desire to’ repudiate in the case pf bondholders, to any greater extent than in the case of other individuals. But we are in the position of the crew and passengers of a ship that has foundered. Having taken to the boats, they must conserve all the food and drink they have aboard, and share the work that is necessary in order to reach land, whether they be millionaires or paupers. The food has to be shared equally, irrespective of the rank or the former financial state of the individuals. If it be true in our case that a collapse is imminent unless proper action to avert it is taken, every one should share and share alike. If it is a fair thing to reduce our salaries by £200 a year - and I contend that it is, greatly though I feel the reduction, having no other source of income - it is also fair to tackle every other income similarly. “We should take everything above what is necessary for sustenance, and utilize it to meet our obligations, balance our budget, and do something towards reviving trade and industry, thus providing a greater amount of employment. Taxation up to any extent for the provision of employment would be commendable.
– Would it not have the opposite effect?
– Two or three times during my speech, honorable senators have stated by interjection that the imposition of these heavy burdens would practically amount to killing the goose that lays the golden egg. That is the direct opposite of what I have heard honorable senators say at other times - that if we had an equal distribution of the wealth of the nation, the inequalities that now exist would again be present in a week’s time. One of their arguments contradicts the other. As a matter of fact, if this heavy taxation produced sufficient to provide the unemployed with work, they, by the expenditure of their money, would immediately cause trade and industry to boom, and that money would quickly return to its accustomed channels.
A month or so after the outbreak of the late war, when the Cook Government was defeated and the second Fisher Administration was formed, I wrote to the late Mr. Fisher suggesting that, as there were thousands of persons who had no intention of going to the war, either because of their age or for other reasons, but who, nevertheless, were urging others to risk their limbs and lives, it would be fair to ask them to risk their money. I proposed that he should attempt immediately the flotation, on a voluntary basis, of a loan free of interest, and that, if that proposal did not catch on, the loan should be floated compulsorily. I venture to affirm that had that advice been followed, the late Mr. Fisher would not only have immortalized himself, hut would nave set an example to other nations. In the course of time it would have -ended war because, having to pay spot cash, the nations would not indulge in it; and the financial difficulties under which we are now labouring would not have been encountered. At that time it was considered impossible to raise any considerable amount within our own borders, and it was the regular practice, when money was needed, to go on the London market for it. It was said that, if loans were floated locally, that amount of capital would be withdrawn from industry, which would be crippled. Yet loan after loan was floated internally. Had they been free of interest, the huge war debt, that is now crippling this country, would not exist. However, action along those lines was not attempted. I hope that, if ever we have the misfortune to be engaged in another war, advice of that nature will be given more serious consideration.
The contention most frequently advanced at the present time is that we must not repudiate our liabilities. But what except repudiation is the proposal embodied in the Commonwealth Debt Conversion Bill? Whether the interest rate be lowered, or the interest entirely withdrawn, to the extent that the contract is altered that is repudiation of the original terms.
– In this case it is done by consent.
– It is that kind of consent which is given because there is no option. Therefore, I say that, having decided upon a reduction of interest, we should have gone a little further. While I have no animus against bondholders-
– The honorable senator could not have any animus against himself.
– I have no bonds.
– That is all that I wanted to know.
– The point that I wish to make- is that the average person who invests money in bonds has that amount to spare; he is not, in any considerable fraction of cases, diverting it from his daily requirements. Infinitely less distress would be caused by the further reduction of his interest to the extent of 1 per cent., than will be caused under the proposals embodied in this bill; and if the proposed reduction can be justified on the ground of national necessity, there would be equal justification for a greater reduction. It is only a matter of degree.
– What would be the effect on depositors in savings banks and policy-holders’ in insurance companies ?
– I am fully aware of all that has been said or can be said about the effect on depositors in savings banks or policy-holders.
– Is the honorable senator referring to the provisions in this bill?
– I am endeavouring to show that the economies contemplated by this legislation are not justifiable, because the money could be obtained by other means and with less injustice to the people. The entire scheme is on a wrong basis; it pays no regard to the principle of equality of sacrifice. There could have been a substantially greater reduction of interest upon bonds without doing a serious injustice to the bondholders. If the rate were reduced to 3 per cent, it would be possible for the Government to dispense with the other proposed reduction schemes, and still have a balance in hand.
– How much could be obtained by reducing interest to a flat rate of 3 per cent.?
– I am not prepared to state exactly what would be the amount, but I am satisfied that it would be sufficient to enable the Government to dispense with these pettifogging and unjust proposals which will affect so seriously other sections of the community, and it would still have a balance of approximately £500,000 or more.
– The adoption of the honorable senator’s proposal would mean an addition to the number of old-age pensioners.
– Even if it did, the additional money available would be more than -sufficient to meet any extra claim for the old-age pension. But surely honorable senators realize that the Government’s proposals are adding to the number of our old-age pensioners, simply because those sons or daughters who, formerly, were the support of their aged parents, now have barely enough to live upon, with the result that their parents are compelled to apply for the old-age pension.
– Many wageearners are also bondholders.
– I have heard that statement before, but I am not convinced that there is much truth in it.
– A considerable number of wage-earners invested in the last loan.
– I feel certain that if the records were examined, it would be found that those wage-earners who were persuaded, rather by their emotions than by their reason, to invest in the last loan have already been compelled to realize on their investment at a substantial discount.
– Then they have made a sacrifice.
– Of course they have, and having done so, they would not be injured by the adoption of my suggestion. My contention is that the injury done to the bondholders by reducing the interest rate to 3 per cent, would be infinitesimal compared to the injury done to the more helpless section of the community by the proposals which we are now considering.
– Is the honorable senator aware that 1,250,000 individual subscriptions to Commonwealth loans represent less than £500 each?
– If I had £500 to invest I should consider myself infinitely richer than I have ever been in my life, because, after meeting my obligations, I have never had £50 to spare. For this reason, I do not pay so much attention to all this loose talk about the number of individual subscribers to Commonwealth loans of less than £500. In my opinion, the vast majority of the workers never have 500 pence, let alone pounds, to spare. We have been told that during .the boom years, when wages were comparatively high and money was spent freely, the workers of this country were treated most generously by their employers. That statement is a gross exaggeration. Every benefit which the workers enjoyed had to be fought for tooth and nail. Vast sums of money had to be expended in securing Arbitration Court awards and determinations of other industrial tribunals, with the result that, owing to the tremendously high cost of living, the wages of the average worker were just sufficient to keep him going from week to week. The more favoured section of the workers, or perhaps I should say, the luckier among the highly skilled tradesmen, were able to save a little money, and many of them utilized it in the purchase of homes. Is that a crime?
– Is it a crime for a worker to purchase government bonds?
SenatorRAE. - No, and I have never said that it is. I have expressly stated, over and over again, that the wage-earner with money to spare has a perfect right to invest it in whatever form he considers most advantageous. But that does not affect my argument that a greater reduction of interest might have been provided for and thus eased the burden upon other sections of the community.
The charge which we make against this Government is that it definitely promised it would remedy the existing social evils without recourse to these economy proposals. It made this declaration time after time, even up to a few weeks ago. Consequently, its abject surrender to the Nationalist party, which has always contended that these sacrifices should be made’ by the workers and our pensioners, is a cowardly abrogation of its pledges in order to prevent its ejection from the treasury bench.
– It was a surrender to a much greater power than the Nationalist party - the stress of economic circumstances.
SenatorRAE. - It was a surrender to the power of the banking institutions which the honorable senator represents in this chamber. When a Labour Government tamely accepts the policy dictated by its political opponents and the banking institutions, I, and those who are with me in this matter, are justified, notwithstanding the slur attempted to be cast on us by Senator Lynch, in dissociating ourselves from the party which supports it. We foreswear our allegiance to a government which has betrayed its trust and surrendered everything for which it stood. As has been pointed out by previous speakers, we cannot expect to restore prosperity by reducing wages. On the contrary, we shall merely add to the already large army of unemployed, because a -reduction of wages destroys the purchasing power of the people. Con sequently, it is a stupid policy from start to finish. For these reasons I am definitely opposed to this piece of iniquitous legislation.
– Senator Rae has just given us an illuminating address, in the course of which he touched upon a great number of subjects, including the economic situation in India, with particular referenceto the cotton-spinning industry. He also made some references to the cottonindustry in Great Britain. As a matter of fact the honorable senator travelled from Dan to Beersheeba, but had very little to say about the bill, or the variousmatters that are contained in it.
I feel strongly upon this measure, and I say at once that, if it were now in its original form, I should have to reconsider my position and, possibly, vote against certain clauses of it. Senator Rae declared that it would rob ex-soldiers of their pension privileges, and that, in this respect, it waff one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated in the history of the Commonwealth. What are the facts? The bill makes no alteration whatever in pensions to ex-soldiers. I ought to know, because I am a returned soldier myself and I have been in close touch with the representatives of returned soldiers organizations who visited Canberra to discuss this matter with soldier members of the Senate and another place. In its original form it did contain provisions for the reduction of soldiers’ pensions.
– It now proposes to reduce pensions payable to certain classes of dependants.
– That is an entirely different matter. When it was discovered that the Government contemplated applying the economy scheme to soldiers’ pensions, the various organizations throughout the Commonwealth were immediately up in arms as, indeed, were all soldier members of Parliament, because we believed that, under no circumstances, should a government interfere with pensions payable for war disabilities. But I am happy to be able to say that our returned soldiers, as honorable men, are just as true to the interests of Australia to-day as they were when the call came to them in the years of the war. When this proposal was brought under their notice, they were informed of the exact position, and asked if they could suggest an alternative. Realizing the imperative need to make economies in all adjustable government expenditure ‘they gave consideration to the Government’s proposals and formulated the scheme which is now embodied in the bill. It is, therefore, quite wide of the truth to say that the bill robs returned soldiers of their pensions. If it did that. their representatives would be the first to voice their protest against it. On the contrary, the bill preserves ex-soldiers’ pensions at the original rate. It is true that there is to be some alteration in the pensions payable to dependants of ex-soldiers, but that, as I have already said, is an entirely different matter. The point which I wish to emphasize is that, as regards pensions payable to ex-soldiers themselves, there has been no alteration whatever. I believe, however, that soon there must be a general review of the whole scheme, and, probably, a number of those who are in receipt of pensions to-day, will have certain payments withdrawn.
– Is the honorable senator aware that the rank and file of the soldiers have not been consulted?
– There are tens of thousands of soldiers in Australia, and it would be impossible to consult each of them. These men, however, have their organizations, with branches throughout the country. This matter has been referred to the various branches, which have communicated their views to the executive, and it consequently knows that the decisions it has arrived at represent the views of the great body of returned soldiers. Senator Rae said that he did not accept either the plan of the Premiers Conference, or that suggested by Senator Dunn.
– I did not say that.
– He also said that he had a plan of his own which was superior to the others.
– The honorable -senator has misunderstood me. I said that Senator Dunn’s plan was a good one, ‘but that I could suggest something which would give more immediate relief.
– Evidently the honorable senator realizes the necessity for immediate action. His proposal was awaited with a good deal of interest by honorable senators, because they felt that if it was better than the scheme which had been accepted by the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, on the advice of experts, it should go a long way towards solving our difficulties. The eagerly awaited scheme was a proposal that interest rates should be reduced by a further 1 per cent. The bondholders are to be called upon to make a further sacrifice, as a result of which the country would benefit to the extent of another £500,000.
– I said that a reduction of interest by a further 1 per cent, would enable us to dispense with these other proposals and still leave a surplus of £500,000.
– I regret that I misunderstood the honorable senator. If his proposal would have the effect that he claims for it, we must agree that it would be a fine tiling. But who are the people who would be affected by any further reduction in interest rates? The honorable senator seems to regard bondholders as persons who can easily afford to accept any diminution of their income. He resented the suggestion that many of the persons who had contributed to the various loans were workers, and others with comparatively small means. Evidently, the honorable senator thinks that the only persons who contribute to loans are those with almost unlimited means to whom a reduction in the interest rate by 1 or 2 per cent, or the non-payment of interest altogether, would make little difference.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– The logical outcome of the honorable senator’s suggestion is the abolition of interest. If we were relieved of the necessity for paying interest we could save millions of pounds each year, and then, instead of decreasing pension rates and salaries, we could increase them, and every one would be happy.
– I point out that the subject now being discussed has not only already been fully dealt with in another bill, but is not relevant to this measure.
– I realize that my remarks were somewhat irrelevant, but I was replying to interjections, and had almost concluded doing so. A great many people in this country are entirely dependent for the means of subsistence on the income they receive from investments in loans, so that any reduction in the interest rate beyond what is contained in the Government’s proposal would entail further hardship on them, and probably have the effect of throwing them on the State. It is not pleasant for any honorable senator to have to accept the proposals contained in this measure; but the requirements of the country necessitate it. Desperate needs require desperate remedies; and unless something is done immediately to put things right, we shall sink further into the morass,
I do not wish to say a great deal, regarding the effect of these proposals on the persons primarily affected by them. With Senator Hoare, I sympathize with the invalid and old-age pensioners, who will have to accept reduced pensions. At the best, their lot is an unenviable one; any reduction in the amount they receive must be a matter of grave concern to them. Nevertheless, they must accept that reduction because the country cannot afford to continue to pay the existing rates.
– Does not the reduction in the cost of living compensate for the reduction in pensions?
– Persons in receipt of pensions will have to deny themselves comforts to which they have been accustomed.
– The cost of living has fallen more than the proposed 12-J per cent, reduction in pensions.
– Although the cost of living has fallen somewhat during recent months, there are indications that, instead of falling lower, it will rise. The heavy taxation contemplated by the Government, in its desperate effort to get somewhere near balancing the budget, will tend to increase the cost of living.
– The sales tax and other proposals of the Government will not affect old-age pensioners to any extent. The burden will fall most heavily on men with families.
– I am still of the opinion that the tendency will be for the cost of living to rise, rather than to fall, in which case it will be extremely difficult for those in receipt of pensions to. carry on with their reduced incomesSome resentment on their part would be only natural. The more we talk about the sacrifice that will have to be made the harder it will be for those affected to bear the hardships they will be called upon to endure. We should put the best face on things in the interests of the country.
– In other words, the honorable senator suggests keeping things dark.
– I have made nosuggestion of that kind. The people must be acquainted with the facts. They are getting them through the medium of the public press. But nothing is easier than to work up in these people strong feelings of resentment, which might re-act to the detriment of the country, and militate against the success of the scheme for the rehabilitation of Australia. It is unwise to appeal, to the prejudices and passions of people at such a time as this. Senator Rae said that we should share and share alike.
– If I were a dictator, I should see that that policy were put into operation.
– I imagine that, if Senator Rae were a dictator, he would see that he got a bigger share for himself than any one else in the community received. The doctrine espoused by Senator Rae has never yet proved successful. Even in Russia, that country which Senator Rae regards so fondly, the “ share and share alike “ principle has not been put into operation, because millions of the people there are suffering from starvation, while those who direct the affairs of the country - dictators such as Senator Rae would like to he - are living on the fat of the land. The doctrine is impracticable. Even on the honorable senator’s own admission, we want a plan which will be effective immediately.’
– These proposals have been hanging fire for six months.
– I do not know how long it would take to put into effective operation throughout the country the “ share and share alike “ principle advocated by Senator Bae. I am afraid that, before the scheme was properly inaugurated, Australia would have reached a position from which it would be impossible to emerge successfully. Although the proposals contained in this measure are a contradiction of many of the things I have held dear for many years, I must temporarily relinquish them in the interests of the nation. Consequently, I shall vote, although very reluctantly, for the second reading of this bill, at the same time expressing the hope that the application of the remedies contained in it, and the measures which are complementary to it, will result in the solution of our problems and the dawn of a brighter and better future.
– There is one aspect of the subject under discussion which I feel should be placed before honorable senators. There is an impression that those soldiers who have suffered war injuries will have their pensions reduced. That is not so. As honorable senators are aware, a committee was appointed to consider the question of soldiers’ pensions. Having made certain proposals which would result in a saving of £1,018,230 per annum, the committee stated -
The conference recognizes that the surrendering of the aforementioned amount was essential to the success of the rehabilitation plan, and, whilst the said proposal will doubtless occasion considerable inconvenience to those concerned, they will accept the sacrifice entailed with a view to assisting in expediting the restoration of prosperity in Australia.
The proposals submitted by the conference of presidents of returned soldiers’ associations, as accepted by the Commonwealth Government, have the following effect : -
Honorable senators will see that disabled soldiers, war widows and orphans, and widowed mothers of unmarried men who have died from war causes, are not touched by this bill. The proposals submitted by the conference were signed by -
J. Chambers, Federal President, Tubercular Sailors and Soldiers Association.
We all appreciate the work done by the soldiers, and realize to the full the nature -of their sufferings, and we must also recognize that equality of sacrifice is impossible of attainment.
– We must avoid making the sacrifice more unequal.
– The honorable senator referred to old-age pensioners and to what he called the lame, the halt and the blind; and he said that it was a crime to take 2s. 6d. a week from them. He must not lose sight of the fact that df this plan had not been put forward, if these proposals had not been submitted, and if things had been allowed to drift as they were drifting in this country, the invalid and old-age pensioners would have been lucky to receive 9s. or 10s. in the £1. This plan is saving the pensioner at least 7s. 6d., and securing his pension. In common with every other citizen, the pensioner is called upon to make a sacrifice. It is useless to say that because the old-age pensioners are not organized like the soldiers are, they are expected to suffer more than the soldiers. The pension is given to the soldier because of some disability for which he really cannot be adequately recompensed. In any case, the old-age pensioner is in a better position than quite a number of workers with families who are on the basic wage. What is the amount per head received by a family of five whose bread-winner is on the basic wage ? I have” no desire to prolong the debate. I content myself with saying that no practical alternative has been suggested to tide us over the present difficulties. We have got almost to the edge of the precipice, and if we dilly-dally much longer we shall be pushed over the edge. This plan’ will enable us to avoid that danger.
.- Any proposal to reduce old-age pensions is unpalatable to every honorable senator, but I do not propose to allow Senator Rae’s attitude to go unchallenged. The honorable senator has stated very definitely that he proposes to go on the platform and denounce every one who has agreed to a reduction of the pension of an old-age pensioner. The honorable senator has been so long denouncing things from public platforms that it is second nature to him to do so. There is, however, another side to the question. I have been associated with the establishment of the old-age pension for very many years. Indeed, it was practically through my efforts that it was first paid in Queensland. We had then a largehearted, Liberal Colonial Secretary, Sir Horace Tozer, who undertook to pay a pension of 5s. a week. The amount was afterwards increased to 7s. 6d. and subsequently to 10s., at which it stood when the colonies federated. The party with which Senator Rae is associated has only added 2s. 6d. a week to the pension paid by the Commonwealth. The justification for increasing the rate in past year? was the steadily rising cost of living. The Bruce-Page Government increased the rate to £1 in order to keep pace with the rise in the cost of living, and th* Labour party has made no legislative effort to increase the pension beyond £1.
– Is that any argument why it should be reduced ?
– I am coming to that point. Every government has found the cost of Old-age pensions a very big drag upon the budget. When Mr. Fisher wac Prime Minister and Treasurer, old-age pensions cost the Commonwealth £10,000,000. Since then the amount has> grown. Senator Rae should not do anything to cause the old-age pensioners to become discontented with their lot. because even with a reduction of 2s. 6d. a week the purchasing power of their pension will be greater than that of the £1 pension two years ago. I do not know any member of this Parliament who would willingly reduce old-age pensions. To avoid this reduction Senator Rae would cut wages and salaries. Why did he not move to increase the pension when it took the pensioners all their time to live on £1 a week? Why all this display of anxiety on their behalf now that they are in a better position than before, because of the reduction in the cost of living? The fact of the matter is that the honorable senator is allowing his sentiment to get the better of his reasoning. To claim that the old-age pensioners are being cruelly treated by this Senate is all soap-box talk, which is unfair, not only to the pensioners, but also to the country generally. We are all actuated by a desire to treat the old-age pensioner fairly, but we cannot get over the fact that the Government no longer has the money to pay for all these services, and that default would mean that old-age pensioners would get nothing. If the Senate had not rejected the Fiduciary Notes Bill there would have been nothing with which to pay old-age pensioners, public servants, or any one else. In view of the discontent, misery, and unemployment which exists throughout the Commonwealth, Senator Bae must admit that we should all join in putting the position fairly before the people, instead of denouncing those who .are making an honest attempt to assist the country in its hour of need. Although some pensioners may be inconvenienced, many of the children of pensioners will be able to render financial assistance to their parents which, while they were in receipt of a full pension, was considered unnecessary. Instead of Senator Bae causing further trouble and discontent among the old people by adopting the course he suggests, I trust that he will let the old people know that as soon as the position becomes normal, or the cost of living increases, every effort will be made to restore the rates.
– Although I have no desire to delay the Senate, I wish to reply to certain statements made in connexion with this measure that are contrary to fact. For instance, Senator Rae made the extraordinary assertion that the Government could retain the present rates of salaries and pensions by reducing the interest on bonds to a flat rate of 3 per cent. There would then, he contended, be no necessity to make the proposed cut, and the Commonwealth would have £500,000 to spare. In studying the schedule, I find that the interest rates are to be reduced t6 £3 13s. 7 id. per cent. The total amount which Senator Rae proposes to secure by bringing the interest rate down to 3 per cent, is £2,800,000. If Senator Rae can show how such a tremendous saving as he suggests can be made by a reduction of an additional 13s. 7½d. per cent., I should like him to be the Treasurer in any government of which I was a member. Notwithstanding the statements made by some of the Government’s alleged fol lowers, I know that the Government has regarded the introduction of this measure as a most unpleasant task. In fact, no one favours a reduction in invalid, old-age, and war pensions; but we have to face economic facts. Senator Dunn said this evening that our present position is due largely to the action of the Bruce-Page Government. That statement has been refuted so often that it is useless for me to deny it again; but I ask honorable senators to note what the Treasurer himself said in delivering his budget statement. These are his words -
All our attempts in the past twelve months to stimulate “a recovery of trade, to maintain the stability and usefulness of our credit structure, to restore employment and to secure to the workers and primary producers their assured reward, have been frustrated by external events and influences.
If it is the considered opinion of the present Federal Treasurer that the position now confronting us is due to external causes entirely beyond the control of this Government, the late Government cannot be blamed for it. Although we all regret the necessity to reduce invalid and old-age pensions, it is a sort of poetic justice that this unpleasant task should fall to the lot of this Government. During the last election campaign, the candidates supporting the present Government strongly declared that if a Labour government were returned it would retain the existing rates of pensions. Their slogan was, “ Support us and save your oldage pensions “. Illustrated posters depicting hungry children hanging on to the bedraggled skirts of their unfortunate mothers were displayed throughout the country. The wording on the posters suggested that such a position would be brought about by a return of the Bruce-Page Government. It was not only publicly stated, but whispered in the ears of the old-age pensioners, that if the Bruce-Page Government remained in office, pensions would be reduced.
– If that Government had been returned, pensions would probably have been reduced nearly two years earlier.
– We are not dealing with probabilities, but ‘with hard facts. Notwithstanding the tirade of abuse indulged in by members of the Labour party during the last general election campaign, it has now fallen to their lot to take their own medicine. It is a lesson to those who indulged in such wild abuse that their political opponents, although they do not see eye to eye with them, are just as honest in their efforts on behalf of their country as they are themselves. To use an expression of Senator Bae’s, these persons now find that the “ chickens are coming home to roost”. Senator Rae drew an analogy between a shipwrecked crew who, he said, would divide the food and the work, and the Australian people at the present juncture. But there are two or three variations that probably make all the difference in the world. In this shipwrecked state to-day there are some persons who produce what is needed, while a tremendous number” produce nothing at all. Senator Bae would take from those who produce, and give to those who do not.
– Oh, no, I” would have everybody producing.
– The honorable senator had better turn his political garments and start afresh, because up to the present he has been preaching doctrines in which he does not believe. T, and those who think as I do, say that everybody should produce something.
– The majority of persons do not produce.
– That is so; but the fact remains that everything on which we live has been produced.
– There are more parasitical loafers in high than in low places.
– Unfortunately, there are very few in high places in Australia. If they were drowned in the depths of the sea, they would not be missed from the streets of any city in Australia.
– I used the word “ high “ in a comparative sense.
– I cannot agree that there is any considerable number of non-productive parasites in high places in Australia. That class may exist in other countries, but it has no place in Australia.
– In every town and village there are scores of people who have never done an honest day’s work.
– I agree with the honorable senator; they are the people among whom he would divide the spoils.
While I realize that the proposed reductions are absolutely necessary in view of the position of the finances, I consider that the Government made a great mistake when it altered the basis of the maternity allowance. Some persons argue that the allowance ought not to be paid to those whose husbands are in receipt of a salary above a certain amount. When the Fisher Government initiated the allowance, it was clearly and unmistakably laid down that it was noi to be regarded as a charitable gift, nor as compensation for the poverty of the recipient, but as a recognition by the nation of the motherhood of Australia. It may be necessary to reduce the amount payable in conformity with the reductions made in other directions; but the Government has gone further and has altered the basis, thus placing it in the category of a charitable gift. I believe that that will be resented very strongly by the people of Australia.
I endorse all that Senator Johnston hae said in regard to the invidious treatment that has been meted out to the goldmining industry. Had all bounties been reduced equally, I should have had no objection to offer. I could name several industries that have received hundreds of thousands of pounds from the public purse without having rendered anything like a commensurate service. If in their case, the bounty were entirely suspended, I do not consider that such action would be too drastic.
There are several other features in the bill, but they can be dealt with more appropriately in committee. I shall, therefore, reserve for that stage any further remarks that I may desire to make.
– A great deal has been said in regard to the old-age pensioners and crippled soldiers, and many crocodile tears have been shed on their behalf. The situation that confronted the Government was that, at the middle of July, the oldage pensioner would receive only 12s. 8 week, and, after that, nothing, unless drastic action was taken. The crippled soldier would have been affected in a similar manner. Consequently, it had the choice of making this provision, or of allowing the stage to be reached when it would not be possible to make any payment.
What was the Government to do? Is there any one who will say that it should have run away from its plain duty, and have prevented the old-age pensioner and the crippled soldier from obtaining what it is now offering? This country was “ broke “ long before the present Government came into power, and when the Government assumed office it could not raise one shilling anywhere.
– It had a similar choice last August.
– I know that it had that choice last August. It then brought forward measures which it considered would remove the difficulties with which it was confronted; but those measures were rejected by the Senate. I do not question the right of the Senate to take that action. It did not believe that the proper remedies were proposed, and, having the power to prevent them from Being given effect, it naturally acted in that way. The Government, however, believed that, had they been given effect, they would have pulled Australia through. Eventually, it found itself with its back to the wall, and it had to retreat, as the soldiers did from Mons. It could not take money from the people who own it without their consent, unless it declared a state of war. If one individual wishes to borrow from another, he must prove that he is a sound person, and that he will carry out his obligations and undertakings. Nations occupy a similar position. If Australia can convince England that she is “ dead right,” and so impress her that she will lend us £20,000,000 or £30,000,000, what will be the effect? There are between 40,000 and 50,000 members of my organization tramping Australia to-day without a “ bob.” God knows how the wives and families of some of them are living. There is something in the contention that it is necessary to establish credit. If we establish our credit, and procure the wherewithal to pull these men off the roads of Australia, and put them into productive work, shall we not be doing some service to this country? lt has been argued that, by these reductions, we shall lessen the purchasing power of the people, and, consequently, cause a greater number of men to be thrown out of work. May I put the other side? If we can place in work the 360,000 men who are now on the tramp, even at the reduced wage provided for iu this bill, will not that cause a stream of money to flow into the industries of this country, and thus double the purchasing power of the people, with a consequent stimulation of industry and business?
I repeat that the choice lay between what has been provided and nothing at all. The situation must be faced with the greatest stoicism.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The Senate divided.
Majority . . . . 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with the following message : -
The House of Representatives returns to the Senate the bill entituled “ A bill for an act to provide for the conversion of the internal public debts of the Commonwealth and the States, and for other purposes “, and acquaints the Senate that the House of Representatives has agreed to Nos. I, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 10, 17 and 18 of the amendments made by. the Senate; has agreed to amendments Nos. 2 and 5 with amendments, and has agreed to amendment No. 6 with a consequential amendment, as shown in the annexed schedule.
The House of Representatives’ desires the concurrence of the Senate in the amendments and in the consequential amendment made by the House of Representatives to the amendments of the Senate.
In committee: ( Consider ation of House of Representatives message).
Clause 12 -
Senate’s amendment. - At end of clause add the following nowsub-clauses: - . (5.) Commonwealth Government inscribed stock for which existing securities are exchanged under either of the last two preceding sub-sections, and Commonwealth Government inscribed stock in respect of which dissent is signified in accordance with this act, shall not, except as prescribed, be exchangeable for bonds or any other form of security. (6.) Commonwealth Government inscribed stock for which existing securities are exchanged under sub-section (3.) or sub-section (4.) of this section shall not be deemed to be new securities within the meaning of this act.
House of Representatives’ message. - Amendment amended as follows: -
By inserting before the word “ bonds “, new sub-clause 5, the word “ Commonwealth “; and by inserting before the word “ security “ new sub-clause 5, the word “ Commonwealth “.
Motion (by Senator Dooley) agreed to-
That the amendment made by the House of Representatives be agreed to.
Clause 14 - (5.) New securities issued in accordance with the provisions of the last preceding subsection (other than new securities bearing interest at four per centum per annum) shall be issued only in the form of inscribed stock.
Senate’s amendment. - After the word “ stock “ add the words “ and shall not be exchangeable for bonds or any other form of security “.
House of Representatives’message: -
Amendment amended as follows - By inserting before the word “ bonds “ the word “ Commonwealth “ ; andby inserting before the word “ security”, the word “ Commonwealth “.
Motion (by Senator Dooley) agreed to-
That the House of Representatives’ amendment he agreed to.
Clause 15 - (1.) New securities issued in exchange for existing securities held by a Government Savings Bank shall mature upon the original date of maturity of the existing securities if the Treasurer of the Commonwealth or the State concerned and the Savings Bank so agree, but otherwise shall be subject to the provisions of this act. (2.) A Government Savings Bank in this section means any of the following institutions, namely: - The Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia, the Government Savings
Bank of New South Wales, the State Savings Bank of Victoria, the Savings Bank of South Australia and the State Savings Bank of Western Australia.
Senate’s amendment. - Leave out the word “Government”, sub-clause (1), and subclause (2) first occurring.
House of Representatives’ message - Amendment agreed to with the following consequential amendment - Leave out the word “ or “, sub-clause ( 1 ) , and insert the words “ and the Treasurer of “.
– I move -
That the consequential amendment made by the House of Representatives be agreed to.
At the outset the Treasurer was not prepared to accept this amendment, but after debate he adopted the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition in another place that the State Treasurer and the Commonwealth Treasurershould act jointly in the matter.
– I think I made that suggestion in the Senate, but the Leader of the Opposition in another place is welcome to it.
– As the onus of finding money to redeem the bonds is on the Commonwealth Treasurer, he is entitled to participate in the deliberations. This amendment will place the Hobart Savings Bank and the Bank for Savings, Launceston, on the same footing as other government savings banks in the various States.
– The amendments made by another place are not consequential. Each savings bank will be placed in exactly the same position. If the amendment -is acceptable to the Senate, the position will be that, whereas, previously, certain things could be done if the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, or the Treasurer of the State concerned, and the savings bank agreed, it is now provided that the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, and the Treasurer of the State concerned, as well as the savings bank, must agree. There must now be agreement between three parties, including the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, whereas, previously, that was not so. Seeing that the amendment places all banks on the same footing, it is acceptable to me.
.-With regard to the point raised by Senator Payne, the position under the amendment will be that, so far as negotiations with the banks are concerned, they will all be on the same footing.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [10.17]. - I desire to point out that the message from the House of Representatives justifies my criticism of Senator Payne’s amendment, that if the Treasurer of the State and’ the savings bank agreed, they could present to the Government a proposal regarding the maturity date of bonds. I then pointed out that, while that might be satisfactory in the case of government savings banks, it might not be so in the case of private institutions controlled by committees of citizens. What the Government has done in another place has overcome that objection. The consent of the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, as “’ well as that of the Treasurer of the State, must now be obtained. The original amendment provided that if the Treasurer of a State and the bank agreed, they could call upon the Commonwealth to meet the securities on the original date of maturity.
– They will be all placed on the same footing now.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Yes; the position is different from what it would have been under the honorable senator’s amendment.
Motion agreed to.
Resolutions reported; report adopted.
Bill received from the House of Representatives and (on motion by Senator Barnes) read a first time.
Australia’s Indebtedness in London - General Post Office, Sydney - Embargo on Potatoes from Western Australia.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed.
That tho Senate do now adjourn.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (West the Leader of the Government the following questions, upon notice: -
Has he noticed in yesterday’s, issue of the Canberra Times newspaper a reported cable reading as follows: - London, Monday. Th& financial writer of the Daily Herald says:, “ Australia has every reason to congratulate herself on the remarkable performance of reducing the London indebtedness by £21,000,000. The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) has every reason to take pride in the fact”?
Is it a fact that the London indebtedness of the Commonwealth has been reduced by £21,000,000?
I received the following reply: -
Apparently the cable refers to the reduced amounts owing to the Westminster Bank and the public in London in respect of short-term indebtedness (including overdrafts) of the Australian .Governments. As shown in thebudget speech there has been a reduction of. £12,000,000 in this indebtedness.
As that reply was news to me, I turned! to the budget speech delivered by theTreasurer (Mr. Theodore) last week,, where I read that the honorable gentleman said’ -
Owing to the inability of the Loan Council to obtain long-dated loans overseas, the requirements of the Governments, up to the 31st August, 1930, were financed by means of bank overdrafts and short-dated treasury bills issued to the public. After that date the Government expenditures were met by remittances which were made possible by the pooling oi London exchange by the Australian banks under an arrangement with the Loan Council. The Governments are given first call upon accumulated Australian resources in London by virtue of this arrangement. The unfunded debt at the 31st August, 1930, which has since remained constant, totalled £38,075,000, and was held as follows: -
Now, in answer to. a question I am told, “ As shown in the budget speech there has been a reduction of £12,900,000 in this indebtedness.” Honorable senators will see that that reply conflicts with the statement by the Treasurer that, “ The unfunded debt at the 31st August, 1930, which has since remained constant, totalled £38,075,000.” I suggest to Ministers that they should take care that their replies to questions are borne out by the references used in support of them.
.- On behalf of the citizens of
Sydney, I direct attention to the latest action of the postal authorities in relation to the General Post Office, Sydney. For over 25 years the clock in the tower of that building has been lighted nightly, but now, in order to save £111 per annum, the decree has gone forth that the clock faces are not to be illuminated at night.
– What a hardship !
– It is a hardship, seeing that so many of the citizens of Sydney in these hard times have had to pawn their watches. In order to save a small sum, the Government is prepared to rob the citizens of Sydney.
– If Mr. Lang would pay his interest it would be possible for the Government to pay for the lighting of the clock faces.
– If the Commonwealth Government were to adopt the Lang plan, every clock in Australia could be lighted day and night. From a conversation which I have had with the Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) I understand that any local authority may install a clock in any post office tower. It is a standing disgrace to the Government that the principal city of Australia, which has a population of 1,250,000 persons, should be without a lighted post office clock, unless the local City Counail is prepared to bear the expense of lighting it. The Government must indeed be in sore straits if it has to resort to such petty practices.
– I desire to refer to the action of the New South Wales Government in prohibiting the importation of certain commodities, particularlypotatoes, from Western Australia. So far as I am aware, New South Wales is the only State that has placed such an embargo on potatoes from Western Australia, the reason given being that there is a danger of the lucerne flea being introduced from that State. I think there is still some authority which the Commonwealth Government can exercise to inquire into State regulations, and disallow any which may be frivolous or unwarranted. For years the western State has been a profitable dumping ground for the potatoes of every other State, and very little restriction has been imposed by it. But now that it has for the first time advanced to the point of being able to supply not only its own potato requirements, but also, to their great advantage, the requirements of some of the eastern States, these regulations have been brought into force. I regard them as a clear interference with trade between the States. Against that the Constitution imposes a bar, unless there is substantial ground for such interference. The purpose of my remarks to-night is to direct attention to the imposition of these regulations by New South Wales alone. There is no warrant for this interference, and it is clearly something which was barred by the framers of our Constitution. I hope that the Government will take notice of my complaint, and that it will institute some inquiry into this action of the State of New South Wales, which has imposed a hardship on producers in Western Australia, who, for the first time, are in a position to supply potatoes of the first quality to consumers in the Eastern States.
– As a representative of New South Wales, I cannot allow Senator Lynch to reflect upon the officials of that State acting in a public capacity. Anyone listening to the honorable senator would imagine that the State itself had suddenly determined that nothing whatever was to be imported from Western Australia, because of some set it has against the western State.
– Is the honorable senator proud of the administration in New South Wales to-day?
– It is not a matter of State administration. It is a matter of protecting the State from the importation of something which the officials rightly or wrongly believe will be a serious menace to its lucerne fields. I gather from the press that one or two shipments of potatoes from Western Australia have been discovered by the officials of the Agricultural Department of New South Wales, reputable and honorable men, to be infested with the lucerne flea, and that it is felt that the distribution of those potatoes would so infest the lucerne fields that it would not be possible to eradicate the pest. The fact that potatoes are freely imported into New South Wales from Tasmania, Victoria and Queens land, indicates that there is no desire on the part of the State to protect its own potato-growers against importations. I think that State officials, instead of being condemned, should be commended for acting in the interest of the State by endcavouring to protect it from the importation of pests, and I suggest that Senator Lynch should approach theWestern Australian Government in order to secure proper supervision of shipments of potatoes, so that potatoes infested with the lucerne flea may not be shipped to any other part of Australia.
– I shall interview the Minister for Markets in regard to the matter raised by Senator Lynch, and if there is any statement of importance to be made concerning it, will furnish it to the honorable senator.
– With reference to Senator Dunn’s criticism of the Postmaster- General for having issued instructions to cease the lighting of the General Post Office clock in Sydney, I should think that New South Wales is big enough to look after its own clocks.
If the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition will look at the front page of the budget, he will find that Australia in August, 1930, owed £7,900,000 to the Westminster Bank and £10,000,000 to the public by way of short-term indebtedness, and that it has now reduced the indebtedness to the Westminster Bank by £2,900,000, and the debt to the public by £10,000,000. This reduces the total indebtedness to the Westminster Bank and the public in London by £12,900,000, which I mentioned in my reply to the right honorable senator’s question.
– According to the budget the short-term indebtedness of £38,000,000 has remained constant at that figure. If there has been . any change it must have been brought about merely by a transfer from the Westminster Bank to other banks.
– That is all the information I can give the honorable senator at this juncture.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.43 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 July 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1931/19310715_senate_12_131/>.